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Zoom fatigue: How to keep children and teens engaged in online therapy

Written by Laura Dessauer, EdD, ATR-BC

A virtual meeting on Zoom.

You’ve likely mastered the use of online therapy platforms after years of this pandemic. However, it’s also probably been a challenge keeping your clients engaged—especially your clients who are children and teens. At this point you’re likely pretty burnt out with online therapy. So how can you reengage and deepen the clinical work you are doing online?

Bring in the pets

If you haven’t had a chance to get to know the household pets, now is a good time to do so. Find out more about your client’s pets’ personalities, and if they are similar to or different from the other family members. Use the pet to gauge the mood of the child or teen that you’re working with. Ask them how their pet would react if they were feeling the same emotion as your client is right now. Would their tail be twitching? Would they be purring? Would they want to sleep on the keyboard or hide under the desk?

“Show me your favorite”

Ask your clients to show you their favorite things to build more connection and rapport. What is their favorite toy they play with every day? What is their favorite piece of art they have ever created? What do they really like about their bedroom? What is the best meal their family makes? What is their favorite thing about themselves?

Ask big questions

Use questions that your clients can’t answer with a simple “yes” or “no” to show your interest in them and their perspective on the world. Ask them to explore what their future self might say to them if they were with them now. Have your clients describe what they can see, feel, touch, taste, and hear within the space they are sitting. If they could have a “do-over” and change one thing in their life, what would that be? Then listen and create space for more discovery and exploration.

“Let’s play a game

Another way to reengage your child and adolescent clients is by showing interest in their favorite games. Find out about their favorite games—whether they are video games, board games, or simply make-believe—and use them as an opportunity to explore clinical issues. Are any of their family members similar to or different from their favorite characters from the game? If they could have special skills or powers, what would they be and why? What happens when they don’t win or have to stop playing the game before they’re finished? How does that feel, and what could they do differently to change that feeling or outcome?

If your feelings were a dance… 

Body movement is a powerful tool to help your clients get grounded if they are struggling with overwhelming emotions. Teach your clients some cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) skills by dancing. This way, they can learn to change what they are physically doing to help them change their mood. Have them rate their mood on a scale of 1 to 10 both before and after they dance to encourage self-reflection.

Break out the art supplies

If it seems like you’ve exhausted all words and discussion topics, bring in art for personal exploration using the right side of the brain. Dive into feelings, visualizations, intuition, and creativity—and open up a whole new dimension of therapeutic exploration with your clients. If you’re not sure where to start with art activities, my newest resource, “Art Therapy Card Deck for Children and Adolescents,” provides simple prompts to help your client explore core issues around safety, control, responsibility, self-esteem, and connection.

Each card features a picture of the completed project and straightforward instructions to help guide your client. The cards also feature exploration questions to help you dive deeper with your clients and truly dissect the meaning and motivation behind the work they’ve created. There are 50 art interventions to choose from, so you can find something for even the most challenging of your clients.

Laura Dessauer, EdD, ATR-BC, is a board-certified art therapist with a doctoral degree in counseling psychology who has worked with families for more than 25 years. She is passionate about helping families develop creative ways to confidently communicate and creatively connect. In her private practice, she specializes in working with children who shut down, melt down, and act out by playfully blending cognitive behavioral skills, art making, and creative problem-solving to help clients create individualized social, emotional, and behavioral interventions that stick.

Learn more about Laura Dessauer’s educational products, including upcoming live seminars.

About the publisher

For more than 40 years, nonprofit organization PESI, Inc., has provided cutting-edge continuing education to professionals across the nation. Working alongside the world’s leading experts, PESI educates and instructs the general public, public organizations, private industry, students, and professionals in acquiring, developing, and enhancing their knowledge and skills.

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