Yes, we CAN be equally as effective online, as face to face
I know, because I just spent the last 16 years being trained from multiple sources in HOW to do it and then practicing and refining a technique TO intuitively get to the point quickly and accurately, YET lovingly and gently, for the benefit of the lovely human on the other end of the webinar, who needs you to emotionally support and be present with them, for a little longer than JUST the 7 seconds - 3minutes it can take YOU to get the breakthrough insight THEY need to change and transform their world in positive ways, once you get hella good at working in the online space.
Under some schools of Counselling (or Coach or NLP training) today, they call this something like refining your counselling/coaching micro skills in client observation . In more alternative circles, the same might be referred to as developing your sensory + intuitive intelligence. e.g. the capacity to feel and intuitively identify what experiences are going on for oneself, the environment around us or with another living being.  Combined with your skills in emotional intelligence (being able to recognise one feeling from another, and strategies to manage them effectively.)  Either way, it’s all an aspect of building our online social intelligence. E.g. our awareness of what is going on with others around us and what we then do with that awareness, in this case, relative to our desired online therapeutic outcomes.
If you do any degree of research into the history of Shamanism (which I did a lot of when I was up-skilling in Transpersonal Art Therapy and Psychology 3 years into my Counselling and Community Service career and while I was living in Alice Springs for a time, circa 2007-2011) Indigenous Elders and Shaman are the original Masters of altered states of consciousness; they have been using the human capacity for projecting their consciousness, awareness and energy to others and another location for millennia for healing purposes, to get downloads on the state of the world and attend things like Council gatherings on the other side of the country . Or to connect with Elders in other countries, among many other things . But the capacity to accurately sense and interpret information from afar is also well explored in the more recent research and lit reviews on remote viewing  and the ability and mechanisms by which we can influence the energy and presence in a location other than our own in time and space, was well explored and documented in the early 2000’s by the likes of Gregg Braden, Lynne McTaggert and the many primary (university) associated sources of research that they reference in their books of the time .
But I’ve digressed. Beyond the bigger picture of how and why this works. And beyond the smaller scale, individual picture of us sorting out the technical and equipment setup and barriers that can get in the way that can block communication, why is it important to learn how to do all 3 (speed, accuracy and gentleness) in online sessions well?
-Firstly, for the clarity and purity of the communication dynamic between you. The clearer you are in tuning in, the more ‘on point’ the questions and statements you will use to communicate will be. Clearer, more direct communication, leads to better quality outcomes from the work you do together.
-The better we also get at ‘holding’ the space for them online from afar, this will also have the benefit that THEY feel like they received a better quality of support and care throughout the process of your work together. Who doesn’t want that?
-It’s also important for your own energy levels and the sustainability of your Practice as the Professional, to learn and become practiced in how to do all 3 well. I was listening to some research sited by NICABM in their latest blog recently, stating that one of the greatest sources of fatigue for Therapists moving to working online or via phone is simply trying to hear the clients in an online session, as opposed to live . I would also further clarify, when they’re straining more to make sure they hear you accurately “from a distance” via the unfamiliar medium of video, that anxiety may well be due to fearing the consequences of NOT hearing accurately- we might fear that we might not give a good quality of service or not get it right and that will have negative flow on for the clients in terms of outcomes and perception of the quality of care given. Which can make many of US put ourselves under more pressure about getting it right.
If though, we can open up to the idea that it is equally possible to “hear” or rather read someone’s verbals and non verbals accurately both via video and no matter where we are in time and space, and get practiced in the art of doing so, it reduces the development of this kind of stress and fatigue. When we operate from trust and build our confidence in focusing on and reading others online through practice, we’ll again be able to better maintain our energy through the process, without having to try so hard at it.
So how do you get better practiced at it? Here’s a rough summary of my process, and some homework tasks you can do to get hella good.
1. VISION- likely pre session, you’ve already got a sense from your intake process, of what they’re coming to you for and what they’re hoping to achieve and receive out of your time together. So I’m going to assume you’re coming to the session with this existing know.edge. But if by chance, you don’t, then this becomes your 3rd step to inquire about, instead of the 1st.
2. STATE: This is the quick meditative process you do just before the session, to reconnect your awareness to yourself, release anything from your focus you don’t need and refill back up with your own soulful presence and energy, before you turn to setting the intention for the session.
3. INTENTION- This is both about intending to be able to be of the highest service to the person and setting some intentions relating to your state and the energy in the room you want them to feel. How do you want them to feel supported during this session? What energy do you need to embody and bring to the space to help achieve that? Are there any people or energies that you also need to either invite OR ask to kindly wait outside the virtual waiting room also until after the session, so that you have a clear space in which to work?
4. FOCUS (TUNE INTO AWARENESS OF THE OTHER)- of the great sea os incoming sensory data available to our senses, this is about just honing into the “channel” the “stream” of data that relates specifically to the client’s experience (past, present and future) as they sit “with” you, in this virtual session space you’re co-creating. Tuning into them, to find out what’s going on with them.
5. QUESTION- now you ask them an open question/s to open up discussion (and get verification) about what you’re sensing. Or a closed one if you want to get straight to yes or no type verification of specific detail you’re sensing, like a particular emotion or a pain in a certain area of their body. (NOTE- a word of warning here to pick your questions carefully. If you only use ones that get straight to YOUR point, rather than invite YOUR CLIENT to tune into themselves to find the answer, the risk is that, over time, you’ll condition them to be dependent on YOUR intuition, instead of their own. For example, starting a bit more generally with something like “tell me about what you feel going on in your body right now” as opposed to jumping straight to “is there a pain in your left knee right now? Tell me about the pain in your left knee.” Give your client a few questions worth of room to increase their own awareness and get the insights, before you tell them what you think might be going on.
6. FEEDBACK- listen to the feedback that they give you. Repeat steps 2-3 until you get as much info as you need to. NOTE- word of warning no 2- you never know for sure until you ask them and or the test of time and further experience reveals the truth, so be careful not to go down the egoic path of “ha, I know better than you what’s going on with you” because, remember, how you interpret things, is also slightly subjective, based on your unique experience and world view. So even if you think you know, ALWAYS still do seek their feedback. It not only confirms or clarifies, but also respects your client’s sovereignty and honours the validity of their personal experience too.
7. ACTION- if the whole goal of your sessions is to bring them to a point of decision and have them plan out their next steps of action to help create the better outcome they’re seeking, then this step is about clarifying the actions to be taken now and seeking commitment to them.
YOUR HOMEWORK TASKS: remember, if it helps, you can always take some time to go practice aspects of this process that you feel you need to build your online muscles in, with colleagues virtually or people at home.
Homework task 1: PRESENCE- After you’ve done step 2 above (managed your own state), you might both take turns at playing with step 3 (INTENTION). Pick a giver and a receiver, then the giver intends to send their practice buddy a particular energy in the space, then intends to take it away. Then you both compare notes on what you both experienced during the exercise, before swapping over the roles and doing it again.
Homework task 2: PRACTICE- After you’ve both done steps 2-3, you might both sit and take turns at trying steps 4-6 (focusing on your partner, questioning them and then seeking their feedback response) and comparing feedback with each other at the end on what you both experienced, before you swap to the other having a turn.
The benefits of this are two fold. They will not only help you be more practiced and hence more confident in running your online sessions. But also have the added benefit of building your trust in that the process can be just as effective, online as it is live, face to face.
If you have any questions, or would like to set up some sessions to practice, just let me know.
Until next time,
Nat Ferrier xx
P.S. Was there an AHA moment in this for you? Know someone who might get an AHA out of it too? Feel free to share our article intact.
1) Australian Institute of Professional Counsellors (AIPC), Counselling Microskills: Client Observation
2) Ackerman, C.E., What is Emotional Intelligence? +18 Ways to Improve It, 24th April 2020
3) Bird, M., 3 Minute Coach, p. 324-352, Busybird Publishing, Eltham, Victoria, Australia, 2014
4) Braden, G., The Divine Matrix, Hay House, 1st Edition, 1st March 2007
5) Goleman, D., What is Social Intelligence? Greater Good Magazine, UC Berkeley, 1st Sep 2006
6) Kihlstrom, J. F., & Cantor, N. (2011). Social intelligence. In R. J. Sternberg & S. B. Kaufman (Eds.), Cambridge handbooks in psychology. The Cambridge handbook of intelligence (p. 564–581). Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511977244.029 via https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2011-12794-028
7) Lee, J.H., Remote Viewing As Applied to Future Studies Technological Forecasting and Future Change, Vol 75, Issue 1, Jan 2008, pgs 142-153
8) McTaggart, L., The Field, The Quest for the Secret Force of the Universe, Element Books, April 1 2003
9) McTaggart, L., The Intention Experiment: Using your thoughts to change your life and the world, Atria Books; Reprint edition (February 5, 2008)
10) Padesky, C and Siegel, R., Practical Ways to Improve Telehealth Sessions, The National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine (NICABM), April 30 2020
11) Vadala, J., Cross-Culturally Exploring the Concept of Shamanism, Human Relations Area Files, Yale University, Mar 27 2019
Nat talks about Self Expression, Heart Centred Communication and Lifestyle for Leaders.