Telephone Therapy Appointments: 3 Tips

Giselle wearing a black T shirt and red headphones

By: Giselle General

Therapy, the mental health kind, is something that I have been doing on and off since 2017. It’s remarkable how much time has passed since I first experienced going to a centre with a business-and-clinic vibe waiting room, and sitting in a cozy office with a couch-like chair and chatting with a professional with a clipboard.

Due to the pandemic, I had my first opportunity to do a few virtual therapy sessions with someone I’ve met in person a few times. It worked out well because I’ve met her in-person many times before, so there is a rapport and a baseline of trust.

Now, I’ve been having appointments on a regular basis with my latest therapist for the past two and a half years now. This doctor, I’ve never met in person at all! The primary format of their mental health service is telephone appointments, so video meetings were not even an option. When I asked my family doctor’s clinic to be referred to this service though, I know I needed regular and ongoing mental health support without worrying about whether I’ll ran out of appointments.

Here’s an overview of my top three tips on how to make telephone therapy appointments as successful as possible.

First: Mindset and Expectations

Telephone therapy appointments, in terms of actual logistics, is different in many ways compared to virtual or in-person therapy.

The lack of opportunity to see facial expressions or nonverbal cues is a disadvantage. They will have a difficult or impossible time telling whether you are lying or withholding information. So in my opinion, this is most suitable for someone willing and able to be more forthcoming with their struggles. I think that telephone therapy can help a lot with issues that are not an escalated crisis.

For those that might have trouble being too vulnerable in a closed off space like an office, or might even have trouble with being honest when someone is watching their face, then telephone appointments can be advantageous. It can help someone be more up front because they don’t have to be afraid of seeing their doctor’s facial reactions immediately upon hearing their comments or stories.

Second: Preparation

It’s best to establish a physical space where you would speak to the therapist in private. Tidying or re-organizing the space, whether it is the desk and chair, a bed, living room, dining room can help you focus on the important and vulnerable conversations that is coming up.

Charge your phone and ensure it is 100% and ensure your headphones, if you’re using one, are nearby. I personally prefer having headphones because it keeps my hands free to do other tasks.

Now here’s where telephone appointments have advantages. If you think you would need to fidget, you can do so – just have your fidget items right next to you. I tend to write notes and the doctor’s advice during the appointment, something I haven’t done in in-person appointments since it just feels so awkward to me. You can have a drink of choice instead of just water if you want, like tea of coffee or smoothie. Although for myself, water has always worked.

I highly suggest preparing the topics you would like to talk about. During the initial appointment, when the therapist asks the awkward and important question “what brings you in today?” be prepared to say the difficulty you are having and a short summary of the backstory. So for me, for one of the things I need help with I said “I am running for elected office next year and will be starting a lot of work in a few months, so I am asking for help on an ongoing basis to deal with stress during this period of time and managing my real fears from being an immigrant, minority woman who might be attached and hurt”.

If it is a follow-up appointment, the first two will likely be follow-ups or updates on previously discussed issues, and if there are any, one to two new things you’d like to talk about. I usually write this on a notepad, with space in between the points I wanted to talk about, to write any insights, advice or next steps most relevant to the topic.

Third: Appointment Day

It’s appointment day! Your supplies are ready, phone is charged and you are on your way to the private quiet space you picked for the phone call. I treat it as seriously as going out to an actual appointment, so I feed myself a good meal, wear ‘going out’ clothes but more comfortable versions (like a nice swater and slacks) but I skip the shoes.

I also give myself a small window of time to be the commute or the waiting room time, just about five minutes. My husband has been understanding about this, so he leaves our bedroom, I lock the door and he goes way to the other end of the house, like the living room, to be out of earshot.

Another benefit of telephone appointments is because no one will see you, you can be as visually expressive as you need to be. You can flail your hands while explaining something that’s upsetting. You can roll your eyes when the doctor says something that makes you react “duh, why didn’t I think of it that ways before?!” You can switch what your hands are doing between fidgeting, typing notes, or wiping tears and snot off your face. I typically write down a few bullet points for each of my concern that I can categorize as follows: insights, counter-points, action items.

One thing I strongly advice against is multi-tasking. No social media or emails or chores during the appointment. Since it is likely that the impact of a telephone appointment is slightly diminished from not interacting face to face, multi-tasking and getting distracted makes it worse.

Finally, after the appointment, give yourself at least five minutes to take a breath and process. Those few minutes right after an in-person appointment, when you walk out of the lobby out of the office to start traveling home, are helpful for a reason. Especially if it is an emotionally heavy conversation, it helps your mind settle a bit before you resume with the rest of your day.

A woman with a short haircut and brown and white sweater, on a phone call with her cellphone and writing on a notepad on her desk.

After each appointment, same principles apply to in-person or virtual appointments. If there is homework or readings or activities that were asked of you to do before your next appointment, do them as diligently as if they told you in person.

Just like any other way of getting support for one’s struggles, therapy will likely not be enough to help solve one’s trauma and past hurts, so I suggest thinking of the methods of therapy the same way. It’s okay to patiently put up with the realities of telephone therapy and then switch to your preferred methods at the first opportunity. But who knows, maybe the conveniences of telephone therapy can help you access it on a more frequent basis so that it can help with your self-improvement goals.

The Evolution of Audio Announcements- The Captive Transit User Series Part 7

By: Giselle General

This is part of an ongoing series of posts discussion issues I personally encounter while taking public transit in Edmonton. Links to other posts will be added on an ongoing basis:

What is a Captive Transit User? I learned about the term for the first time from the City of Edmonton’s website. The easy definition is: someone who takes public transit because it’s the best (or only available) option for them to travel around. The part about feeling ‘captive’ comes from the restriction that sometimes comes up, perhaps because one is too poor to own and maintain a vehicle, one does not know how to drive, or for medical reasons, cannot operate a vehicle. In many ways, I relate to this a lot. Though I’m pretty fortunate to afford the occasional taxi ride, and with my husband having a car.

“A hundred and eleven street, a hundred and second Avenue…A hundred and twelve street, a hundred and second Avenue… A hundred and thirteen street, a hundred and second Avenue.”

These lady robot announcements weren’t always a part of one’s commute taking the bus here in Edmonton. The first time I started hearing them, I think it’s about 2012 or so, I can’t help but giggle while taking the bus because the voice just sounds monotonous and a bit silly. My brother (who was new to Edmonton at the time) and I would poke fun at the robot voice sometimes. But the more I hear these announcements, the more I appreciate its benefit when taking transit in Edmonton.

When I first came to Edmonton in 2008, I used a print map of ETS to get around. I have both the city-wide map to help me understand the different routes available, and the the route-specific maps as well. I needed to be familiar with the route number 4, 106, 150, 111, 112, 100, 119, 136 and the LRT so I can to go school, work, hang out with friends and do other activities. I still had a flip phone during those early years and Google Maps is not as good as it is now.

A public transit bus rapidly passing through.

I tried very hard to make sure I get off the right bus stop, but in the winter, when it is dark and the windows are frosted it can be tough to look out by the window and keep track. If you end up missing your stop by a few blocks, walking a few extra minutes late at night and in the winter is not something I – or anyone – look forward to.

I also realized that the audio announcements help people with disabilities! I remember reading a quote from a news article from a person who is blind, who said that the automated announcements of the next bus stops are really useful. I bet that for people who are also new to Edmonton, it’s handy as well.

Screenshot of Google Maps showing walking and bus directions in Edmonton.

When I visited New York City last year, a city where sure, there are numbers in the street names, but the system is so different, hearing the audio announcements of the upcoming bus stops, while looking at the app on my phone, helped me navigate around really easily.

But then, we all know that technology is not perfect. When I lived on the further west side of the city, taking the 136 bus, one of the words that is in several street names kept on being mispronounced. For some reason, ‘Potter” became “Potters” and the word next to it loses the letter S at the end. So, Potter Greens Drive sounded like Potters Green Drive. The city’s app for reporting different city issues also wasn’t perfect – there wasn’t an option to report operating issues specific to buses at the time. But I did my best to report it anyways. I really hope it’s been fixed.

At least twice a week, there seems to be technical issues with the LRT announcements when it is supposed to indicate the next station. Either the next station announced is a few stations off, or the announcements were in reverse order. Luckily, now there is an option in the City’s app to report issues about transit vehicle operations.

Selfie of woman outside in winter, wearing a knitted winter hat and most of her face covered in a light blue scarf

LRT stations have additional types of announcements as well which is handy. Particularly right now during the pandemic, there are audio reminders that masks are mandatory. Back in early 2020, both the above-ground and underground LRT stations started to give passengers a heads up that bus transit fares are increasing in the near future.

Overall, audio announcements has been a handy feature for all users of our transit system. I hope that it continues to have the proper resources to maintain and update its functionality so that it works most – if not – all of the time.

Being a “Backseat Gamer”

Close up view of the original Sony Playstation console and controller.

By: Giselle General

This is something that has been a dynamic in my life all these years. But it wasn’t until I saw my husband watching a YouTube Channel with the terminology uses in the channel, did I realize what I was. I am a backseat gamer!

When I was a kid and my parents and sister were still alive, we do have a video gaming system. It was more like a knockoff version, not the popular ones such as PlayStation or Nintendo. My sister would play it most frequently, though I’d play a game of Bomber Man or Golf every now and then.

In my aunt’s home in Baguio City, is where I first saw a PlayStation gaming system in real life. Whenever I’d come to visit, I see my little brother and my college-aged cousin play video games, lots of them. I hardly touched the controller mainly because I see how much they are really into it. And I preferred books anyways.

When my brother and I lived together in the city, we are forbidden by our grandma to go outside and play, as we have our store to look after. So we have to have our main source of entertainment at home. The Playstation will be on for most of the day, with my brother playing the games we already have, or pirated versions of newer video games. From Digimon, Final Fantasy, Harvest Moon and many others, the ambient music of these games are a regular part of my life.

When I moved to Canada, there were only two main reasons I played video games for a prolonged period of time. When I used to work at an electronics store, I won an Xbox Kinect (so a video game system where you move your whole body while playing) as a prize at an event. There was also a computer game my boyfriend bought for me in 2012 called Terraria.

How does the ‘Backseat Gamer’ set up look like for me? Two people on the couch, one playing (usually my brother or my husband) and then me making little comments or asking questions. I try NOT to judge whatever strategy they are doing. And I definitely do NOT interrupt during a boss fight. Boss fights are easy to tell, usually by ominous music, higher in intensity, with something huge on the screen.

TV screen of video games Subtautica, with the player having submarine controllers navigating open ocean waters.

I will never have the skillset of mashing multiple combinations of the controller buttons and fighting what seems to be an endless stream of monsters. While the goal is universal, which is to overcome the obstacles in order to win, the different processes to do that can vary widely depending on the game. You can be a human in an hostile planet trying to survive, or a jelly bean with legs trying to run through obstacles and beat the clock, or a farmer trying to keep everything organized in the farm and the village.

I guess it’s the modern day equivalent of watching TV with the family even if the show is not your absolute favorite. I think for family members who are NOT video gamers it can be a bonding opportunity with those who are, especially if they play in the living room. Even it it is almost two decades after, whenever reminiscing about our younger years, I tell my brother the limited details I remember about the video games he played such as Harvest Moon, Yu Gi Oh, Pokemon, and Crash Bandicoot, among others. It turned into something fond and positive to reminisce about.

And now with my husband it’s a casual way to hang out as well! He mostly plays in the living room TV since I don’t watch a lot of TV anyways. I’d say a sympathetic word if his character dies during a fight, or cheer him on a level up achievement or a boss fight. Just a few days ago I made a comment when he entered a different level in the game and he was impressed, saying “wow, good for you for observing that game mechanic, not everyone notices it right away!”

Living room with TV screen displaying a game named Hades, image is a castle with monsters the player is trying to defeat.

Video games are not just for children, with many gamers well into their forties, or even older. So I think there is value to non-gamer family members to be aware and and appreciate this hobby and entertainment medium just like movies and board games. I’ve been hanging out in the living room more often this week because the video game has really cool background music, rock and metal which is just my jam. Add interesting stories between the characters and artistically done scenery, it’s like watching a movie or TV show series with a slight level of variety in outcomes thanks to the family member holding the controller.

Getting Involved: A Review of the Insight Community Surveys

By: Giselle General

In this day and age, thanks to technology and social media, it seems to be very easy to share one’s thoughts and opinions.

This is a quick review of one of the ways I try to get involved in the community, through the power of technology, and why it is worth considering.

I would describe the Insight Community (weblink is https://www.edmonton.ca/programs_services/public_engagement/edmonton-insight-community.aspx) as an online questionnaire program run by the City of Edmonton. Every month, if you have subscribed, you will receive an email with a link to a survey, that answers questions on different topics that the City works on.

How Does it Work?

It’s an easy process. Anyone interested can go to the link and create an account which asks demographics related questions. And then once a month, an email arrives in your mailbox with the survey for the month, what topics it covers, and the deadline.

Email for the January 2019 survey, That’s quite a range of topics. The Opt-in is an opportunity to answer additional in-depth surveys on specific topics.

Why do I do this?

It’s relatively straightforward and easy. I also sometimes feel like I only find out about city issues or changes in programs, bylaws and procedures after the fact. When the shovels are on the ground for that infrastructure change, or the brochures and set and the staff has been hired for a program, it can be more difficult to tweak things around. Since the Insight Community Surveys are part of the public engagement process that city staff need to do, I feel like I am getting an advanced preview of what they are working on. It is also a great opportunity to learn about what is going on outside of my immediate neighbourhood, since sometimes there are also questions about upcoming city-wide infrastructure projects.

Some concerns I hear about the survey is the allegation that it is deliberately self-affirming. Another concern is that allegation that people who may not necessarily know about a topic are giving their opinions on it.

That being said, I personally try not to stress about these parts since it is something I cannot control, and I feel like there are adequate opportunities in the questions to provide written answers. If there is something that I really feel passionate about that is either not covered by a the current survey or that the survey cannot convey my opinions about it, I know that I can contact my elected representative though an email, letter, or phone call. Some lucky constituents may even have an elected representative who is also active on social media, and in that case they can be contacted that way as well.

So, go subscribe and spend a few minutes every month learning about the city and sharing your input! At least for me, these few minutes feel so productive, a time away from browsing for too long on social media, haha!