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.

Love Language Reflections: Appreciating Each Other’s Yin and Yang

Black and white photo of a couple holding hands, photo focus on the torso, arms and hands.

By: Giselle General

Being “Therapist approved” is an inside joke that my husband and I have, which is a reference to the first time I went for mental health help in 2017. I shared to my counselor at the time the different gestures my husband does to support me, as well as his perspectives that are different from mine in a good way. And always, after each story, this counselor would say “he’s great, I like this guy!” After every therapy session I’d share this to him, and would say cheerfully “wow, I’m therapist approved!”

Recently, I booked another online therapy appointment with the psychologist I’ve been seeing for the past year. This time around, there isn’t a major issue that I needed regular appointment for, but more like an check-in and occasional help once in a while. It’s like going for a massage – but for my psychological wellbeing – going once every few months feels really nice!

As I described how my husband and I support each other, and how our personalities and priorities are complementary but different, this psychologist commented about how my husband and I seem to be a yin and yang of each other. A contrast that is drastic and obvious, but works so well together and creates a harmonious union.

It reminded me of a painting I made many years ago, back when we were still living in the condo. It is an abstract interpretation of how he and I were a yin and yang complement to each other. It looks like my younger self had observed that about our relationship already. My husband liked the painting to much that it moved with us when we bought our house. Now, not all paintings that I made are kept. Some end up getting donated to fundraising auctions for charities, or I paint over it with a different design. For a painting to stay here for more than five years, it has to feel really special to him.

Abstract painting of a yin and yang symbol that is altered, with handwritten scribbles in either blak or white pencil.

What does this yin and yang harmony as far as our relationship is concerned? Here are some examples:

  • I’m very achievement-oriented and strive for excellence, while he is content with being minimal and steady in achieving life goals
  • He has an amazing ability to be a long-time ‘couch potato’ sitting and watching TV or playing video games all day. I lose attention, and my bottom hurts after watching 1.5 episodes on Netflix, unless it is really interesting.
  • He emphasizes a lot on rest and relaxation, while I’m energetic and immerse myself in lots of volunteering and creative work
  • One example related to chores: I strongly dislike doing laundry, having to wait and time my day to move clothes from the washer to the dryer. But he is more than happy to do so. And then, he dislikes folding and putting away clothing neatly, which is something I am more than happy to do.
  • Our backgrounds and upbringings are drastically different. He is a born-and-raised Canadian white man, with a middle-class family, parents who raised him and stayed in the same home the entire childhood. I grew up in the Philippines, orphaned at a young age and had to function as a parent, immigrated to a new country and moved across cities and provinces.

I think it is not just personality, but encouraging one’s partner to look at things from a different perspective, so that each person has a sense of balance in life. It’s really great whenever he talks to me a few times a month to help me take inventory of all my volunteer activities, and making sure I don’t take up too much and overstretch myself.

Another important aspect is the acknowledging and accepting the differences, particularly if it doesn’t cause harmful disruptions in day to day living. For many years, our budgeting system is quite different, and as long as we are overall organized, it was okay if he used a specific software for budgeting while I used my bank’s online system. It’s totally okay if our office desks, which are next two each other, looks so different. His is really tidy, while mine has mini piles of stuff, from pens, my wide-open bullet journal, business card organizer, and our couple’s diaries. It’s totally okay if he has his clothes sorted in a pile of stackable bins, one of each type of clothing, while I have a closet where majority of the clothes are in hangers.

Close up of a couple mixing baking ingredients. One person hugging the other from the back.

It’s been six years since I looked at that yin and yang painting up close. I wrote words in black or white color pencil in the flowy parts of the yin and yang symbols. As I read the words, the passages are filled with eagerness and curiosity, affection and optimism. There were many phrases that are contrasting and complementary describing both him and me and our experiences: happy and sad, modest and proud, dark and light, straightforward and confusing, assertive and passive, generous and practical, gentle and blunt, he and she.

Sexual Assault Survivor Gets a Boudoir Photoshoot

By: Giselle General

CONTENT WARNING: Sexual Violence, Sexual Assault

Back view of woman sitting on the edge of a bed.

One’s bedroom should be a place of rest, escape, peace and comfort, after a long day of exhaustion, activities and responsibilities. The darkness of the night should be an opportunity of calm solitude, an end of a long day, a pathway to a new morning with the hope that the new day will bring about new adventures and experiences. One’s womanhood and the journey to become one can be uncertain and confusing, but should be one that is filled with discovery, curiosity, and optimism, as one transforms physically into adulthood.

Sexual assault, rape, abuse, molestation, however you want to call it, regardless of how it happened, not only defiles one’s outlook in their life and their bodies, but also taints one’s soul with an indescribable amount of fear and pain.

There were roadblocks to be had, that dragged on and weighed me down for months and years, and clouded the vision of myself, my body, my behaviours, and motivations. From having difficulty articulating how I’m feeling physically, emotionally, and sexually in my romantic life, to feeling uninformed and afraid to learn about reproductive health. From nightmares about being raped with scenarios more gruesome than what I have experienced, to daydreaming while taking transit on what I would do if I get assaulted again, but this time in public.

The journey to healing started online, thanks to the increased discussions about sexual assault. Simultaneously, my current relationship played a huge role, from being believed after I shared my story, to having a voice and being heard when talking about issues related to sexual health and sexual activities. And then a few years ago, the healing became more professional-based, when I finally went to therapy to address the mental and emotional entanglements caused by this particular traumatic event, as well as others.

But there was one thing I mulled about for a very long time, and that is addressing how I view my physical body. The conventional assumption of “she must have looked or dressed a certain way which is why she got assaulted” is one of the key messages I wanted to debunk in my mind and heart. Mind you, during the assaults, typically I was wearing pajamas and clothes of my deceased parents as my sleepwear back then. This is the biggest reason why this assumption enrages me.

Finally, after some time hemming and hawing, browsing through several photographer’s websites, and convincing myself that my budgeting skills are on track, I finally booked the appointment. I chose for the photoshoot to be done on a rented studio, with a wide variety of backdrops for various effects. Many of the backdrops depicted typical parts of a house, just more glamorous looking: the bedroom with pristine sheets, a fancy bathroom with a clawfoot tub, elegant couches and plush chairs, and brick and pastel painted walls. I purchased a few outfits to help me have a theme in the photos, I had my hair done by a hairstylist but chose to not have makeup on. Finally, I told the photograher I’m okay with being a bit of a daredevil with some surprise poses.

It was hard to articulate how enjoyable and empowering it is to feel calm while practically semi-nude in front of a stranger. It is particularly freeing given that my sense of trust was broken by someone who is definitely not a stranger. I felt a bit awkward when I was asked to do certain movements, because part of the approach is not holding still for a certain pose, but instead, to do things such as move your arms and hips in a sexy way while standing, or play with your hair while imagining that you’re feeling like a superstar on the bed right now. But soon enough, the awkwardness transformed into playfulness.

The biggest surprise of all for me, is how I looked like in the photos she captured. When I was doing a ‘movement pose’ such as walking into the door ready to ‘have some fun’, she was pressing the shutter button non-stop while saying ‘oh wow! yes that’s good!’. Fierce, confident, alluring, vixen, all womanly, and not even needing to act like a skinny model while doing so.

When I picked up the printed photobook that was part of my package, I had a bit of a chat with the photographer. I was amazed at how many of the clients the photographer had, were indeed, survivors of sexual violence. Our conversations touched on perception of women in general, the “male gaze” and how it impacts our own perception of ourselves.

In the very visual way we live our lives these days, I figured, using that to my advantage is worth it. It was pretty neat to turn something used to objectify women, professionally photographs, into an opportunity to challenge unhealthy views about one’s self. I feel inclined to do this again, perhaps in five to ten years, to celebrate any transformations in my body, while celebrating my personhood and womanhood. This is something I definitely would encourage other people to consider, particularly if their trauma affects their outlook of their physical bodies and their vision of themselves.

My Contribution to Sexual Violence Awareness Month

By: Giselle General

May is Sexual Violence Awareness Month. It seems like every week, month, or day is dedicated towards something that it can be hard to keep track, this is something I’m not complaining about at all. Sometimes it can be something fun and casual like National Puppy Day, or something deeply important like Black History Month. I feel fortunate that in Canada, Alberta, Edmonton and other places worldwide, there were opportunities to talk about this important (and terrible) issue, give support to those affected, and have conversation on how to be aware and put an end to this.

The issue is a bit personal to me, since I myself have been a victim/ survivor of sexual assault. I purposefully used both words because these horrific act definitely have harmed me, and that should not be discounted one bit. At the same time, similar to the other life hardships that life threw at me, it is something I have survived from and changed who I am, hopefully for the better. The month had provided me with tangible opportunities to meaningfully participate.

Attending a Fundraising Gala

It seems like fundraising galas are everywhere, and attending them is actually pretty cool. I attended the fundraising gala for the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton at the Edmonton Convention Centre. While giving a hefty donation or a regular monthly donation is not within my budget at the moment, I figured that doing a one-time activity and donation is still something.

When it comes to food, I’m not picky anyways, and simply welcome the opportunity to have something different from my regular routine. This gala was a bit special as well, as I managed to join a table with other people who are actively involved in Edmonton. Some people at the table were familiar faces and names, which is thrilling! The keynote speaker, a gentleman who is a lawyer, was wonderful! What I appreciate most about the keynote speaker is that he addressed head on some of the misconceptions that surround sexual assault, from the act, to how survivors behave, and to how a perpetrator can look like. As someone who is part of the legal community, I also appreciate how he humanizes the flaws of the legal system. ‘These are human institutions with people who care‘ he said. I think that when we don’t get the results we are seeking, this is something that we forget in the midst of our anger, pain and discouragement.

Attending an event with a host who is also an auctioneer was a first for me, and seeing how the on-stage sign language interpreters keep up with the host was entertaining! I was blown away by the generosity and disposable income that some people have. Hearing the thousands of dollars being announced during the live auction bids made me gawk, and the tables of items available at the auction tables made me hope that lots of funds are indeed going to support the organization. After this, I definitely feel more inclined to make time and attend more fundraisers like this.

Educating Myself and Learning More Stories

There are lots of ways to make this convenient, specifically through social media. Simply following a few pages that talk about feminism, social issues, storytelling/artistic ones like Humans of New York, give a steady stream on my social media feed about stories and insights that people have. It can be heartbreaking, empowering, informative or hopeful depending on the story or the article. What I know for sure is that it is a reminder of how these experiences are common and universal. My goal is to spread awareness, reduce stigma and victim blaming, and seek out comfort for myself and others.

Evaluating What I Learned from Therapy

It has been almost two years since I went to therapy, and the effort to diligently apply what I have learned is going well. Other positive and healthy habits are being integrated in my life day by day, which also feels very promising. One thing I know is that it will take the rest of my life to remind myself to not be so outcomes-focused in my approach in life, and that is okay.

Also, as it turns out there are times when these calming or self-regulating techniques do not work and I’m not panicking about it. That really is the bigger victory. The calm that comes from accepting that I am a person that grows, changes and that have some weird quirks is liberating. I’m as messed up as anybody else, and this is not a crippling idea anymore.

The dictionary definition of internalize is “to incorporate (the cultural values, mores, motives, etc., of another or of a group), as through learning, socialization, or identification.” This is the biggest victory of my therapy experience, to internalize that it was okay to feel angry and sad and hurt about being treated poorly, to internalize that is is okay to set aside time to acknowledge these feelings, to internalize that there is a way and I deserve to process these feeling and release them, to internalize that I deserve all those good things I life that I didn’t have for a while.

I encourage anyone to find a cause you care about that has a date/ week/ month dedicated to spread awareness, and take it as an opportunity to spread awareness, provide support, and improve ourselves.