How to Combat “Zoom Fatigue” as an Online Counselor

| Staff Writers

In 2019, the term “Zoom fatigue” probably would have sounded like nonsense. In 2020, it’s a very real issue for working professionals.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced many individuals to work or study from home to adhere to social distancing guidelines. For counseling professionals who usually work face-to-face with clients, this meant transitioning to virtual meetings through Zoom or other video conferencing platforms. With numerous appointments scheduled daily, counselors can find themselves excessively worn out by the end of the day — even more than normal.

This sense of fatigue can affect anyone working from home who takes frequent video calls throughout the day. This resource focuses specifically on counselors and therapists who have switched their practice primarily to telehealth as a result of the pandemic. We also feature advice from mental health professionals on how to combat Zoom fatigue and keep you motivated during uncertain times.

What is Zoom Fatigue?

Zoom fatigue refers to the phenomenon of feeling drained after a day of virtual video meetings or “Zoom therapy.”

It might seem strange that online meetings feel more exhausting than in-person meetings, but experts say this is not unexpected. When we speak with others in person, we communicate through body language and social cues. Screens, however, add an extra barrier.

“We have to remember that our brains were not designed to stare at screens for this long (or at all), and the sudden jump from moderate screen use to using screens all day, every day, can take an emotional and physical toll,” said Nikki Rubin, a licensed clinical psychologist based in Los Angeles.

When it comes to using Zoom for psychotherapy, troublesome connections may feature a blurry picture of the other person, or feature a split-second time lag between the image and sound. While these factors seem small, in aggregate they can develop a real mental strain.

“Your brain has to deal with that cognitive dissonance, and it can be especially hard to reconcile if you haven’t had practice,” explained Katie Lear, a licensed counselor and play therapist based in North Carolina. “You may find that it’s hard to ‘settle’ into a conversation and have it feel as natural and relaxed as it would if you were in person.”

The added factors of physical fatigue that come with working from home — like eye strain from staring at a screen and sitting in one place all day — only add to the sense of mental depletion.

How It Can Affect Online Care Providers

Zoom therapy offers undeniable advantages to therapists and counselors. Clients may feel more comfortable opening up in their own homes instead of an unfamiliar office environment. Zoom therapy is also more accessible, which allows people living in rural areas or without transportation to take advantage of mental health services. It can offer a certain degree of flexibility for counselors, too.

That said, mental health counseling can be an emotionally taxing profession. And using Zoom for psychotherapy can only add to the fatigue.

“Therapists who are performing emotional labor all day may already find themselves feeling a bit spent after a full day of work, and this can be compounded by Zoom fatigue,” Lear said. “I think this is especially true if a therapist is seeing large numbers of clients back-to-back all day; working a very condensed schedule might have been doable in-person, but may not work so well online.”

This is especially true for mental health professionals who didn’t have the chance to slowly transition from in-person to virtual sessions. Rubin adds, “The instantaneous transition from in-person sessions to telehealth may have also added to this type of fatigue because most clinicians didn’t have previous practice building up ‘endurance’ to using a computer to do therapy.”

Tips for Online Counselors to Combat Zoom Fatigue

When it comes to Zoom for therapists, experts recommend tried and true advice for self-care: be aware of your time, and ask for help if you need it.

Take breaks

Looking at screens without any breaks can take a heavy toll on your eyes and your mind. It’s important to schedule breaks within your day for 5-10 minutes, or even half an hour.

“Take literal breaks from the screen,” Rubin said. “Get up between sessions, walk away from your computer, have a drink of water and stretch your legs. If you can get outside or look out the window, even better.”

In other words, when you take a break from your computer screen, don’t look at your phone screen. Lock both away and stretch your legs.

Talk to someone

Counselors and therapists spend all day offering support and advice to others. But when it comes to their own mental health, these professionals should feel comfortable also reaching out for support.

“The most important thing to do is acknowledge that this is hard, that you may be grieving the loss of your old life, that you are struggling in some — or many — ways,” said Laura Krawchuck, a licensed clinical social worker. “Find someone you can talk honestly with about the stress, loss and fatigue. We can’t take great care of others if we do not tend compassionately to our own struggles.”

Switch up your schedule

One of the main benefits of remote work is a certain flexibility in scheduling. Spread out your meetings to give yourself ample time for exercise, meals, and general breaks.

“I used to work four days a week doing face-to-face sessions and enjoyed having my Fridays free for travel, networking, and training,” Lear said. “I’m not going to be doing any of those activities any time soon, and squeezing in so many back-to-back online appointments was wearing on me. I’ve spread my appointments over five days, and it feels much better.”

Tips for Patients in Online Counseling Sessions

Patients who take advantage of telehealth counseling services can use tips from their counselors or therapists to get the most out of their experience.

Hide or minimize your face

Virtual video platforms usually offer an option for users to make their own reflection smaller, or hide completely.

“Some of my clients feel distracted or self-conscious being able to see their own face on screen, which detracts from their experience and makes it more difficult to concentrate,” Lear said.

In fact, for some patients, looking at their own face for an hour session can be triggering and lead to destructive behaviors.

“It is especially important if they struggle with body image or with triggers related to seeing themselves which can be pervasive for clients with extensive trauma histories,” Krawchuck added.

Be aware of your time

Patients should follow the same advice as mental health professionals. They should take breaks from their screen, especially if they work from home during the pandemic.

As a therapist, you can relate to clients by giving them the guidance you follow for yourself.

“Openly discuss Zoom fatigue, and help them to set up a plan to get up, move around a bit, and hopefully get outside,” Rubin advises. “Encourage patients to have a little time to take a break from their computers before starting their session with you so that they’re not going from one online meeting to another.”

Get comfortable

As another one of the main advantages to remote work, mental health professionals and clients alike can work from their own home, surrounded by their “own creature comforts,” as Lear says.

“Find a chair that allows you to sit comfortably and with correct posture,” Lear added. “You can adjust the height of your computer and the placement of your therapist’s face on your screen to better mimic natural eye contact, and make conversation feel more natural.”

This advice may seem simple, but it can go a long way in cutting down Zoom fatigue.

Meet Our Contributors

Lara Krawchuk Lara Krawchuk, MSW, LCSW, MPH, has been working with individuals, families and groups struggling with a wide range of life transitions for over 25 years. She offers extensive clinical experience in the fields of cancer care, end of life, grief, living losses, physical illness, professional stress, transition to college, and trauma. Krawchuck enjoys using a combination of talk therapy, Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy, and creative healing techniques to support families facing change, grief, loss, stress, trauma, and suffering.
Nikki Rubin Nikki Rubin, Psy.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Los Angeles who specializes in mindfulness-based third-wave cognitive behavioral therapies (CBT). Dr. Rubin also currently serves as an assistant clinical professor in the UCLA Department of Psychology where she trains Ph.D. students in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). She is the co-host of “When East Meets West,” a new mental health podcast that discusses the integration of Eastern spiritual traditions with Western behavioral science in a fun and informative way.
Katie Lear Katie Lear, LCMHC, RPT, RDT, is a licensed counselor, play therapist, and drama therapist based in Charlotte, North Carolina, where she specializes in childhood anxiety and trauma. Lear offers online therapy to children and families across North Carolina, New York, and Florida. She helps children learn coping skills, manage strong feelings, and feel more confident and resilient through a combination of cognitive-behavioral therapy and art and play techniques.

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