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Swipe This! I can’t find privacy for my teletherapy sessions

When there’s so much not in your control, it’s important to recognize what is.


Nayomi Reghay


“Swipe This!” is an advice column about how to navigate human relationships and connections in an age when we depend so heavily on technology. Have a question? Email swipethis@thedailydot.com.

Dear Swipe This!

I used to love going to therapy. But now I hate it. 

When the pandemic started in March, my therapist switched to remote sessions. I assumed it would be a temporary solution. Now it’s been months, and I am struggling.

It’s hard to open up on Zoom. It feels so abrupt to jump in and out of a call. It’s also incredibly hard to get any privacy in the tiny apartment I share with my boyfriend. We have had so much conflict these last few months, and I miss being able to leave the apartment and head to a space where I knew I could have total privacy, even for an hour. I don’t think he would eavesdrop on me on purpose, but I really hate the idea of him accidentally overhearing me, so I have spent many sessions on the bathroom floor with my laptop whispering.

I’m switching therapists this week, and I really want a fresh start. But I’m afraid that due to the privacy issues I just can’t make teletherapy work for me. 

A friend suggested I go for a walk, and I tried that, but it felt really ineffective. I found a place to sit in a park near my house, but I was so self-conscious of strangers hearing my conversation that I couldn’t open up.

At this point, I feel like teletherapy is stressing me out more than it’s supporting me. I’m at my wit’s end! What should I do? 


Desperately Seeking Privacy

Dear Desperately Seeking Privacy,

I’m so sorry you’re struggling. I’m going to lay out some ideas for how to address your need for privacy in this letter, but before I do I’d like to offer you two simple words that I believe we often need to hear in times of grief: This sucks.

It really, really sucks.

It sucks that we are still in a pandemic. It sucks that we don’t know when it will end. And it really sucks that simple things we could once rely on—like sitting face to face with a therapist in an office with a door that closes!—have become relics of a distant, luxurious past.

What you are craving is so simple, and I’m so sorry that you can’t have it right now.

These days, it often feels like there’s very little we can count on. When we wake up tomorrow, will the sky have turned purple? Who knows! If you told me it was currently raining frogs in Florida, I’d probably shrug and say, “That tracks.”

What you’re yearning for right now isn’t just privacy; it’s security. Things with your partner are rocky. The world is in crisis. And you’re about to start seeing a new therapist and share your intimate thoughts and feelings with a total stranger. These aren’t minor challenges you’re facing; they’re big ones. And they involve you having to face uncertainty and risk, which must feel extra rough in a world where so much feels uncertain.

Even amid the craziness, there are always going to be factors we can control and factors we cannot.

Here’s what you cannot control: When this damn pandemic will end. Whether or not therapy will happen online. For the time being, like it or not, it will. The size of your apartment. It’s small, and you share it with a partner. Who you share public spaces with when you go out into the world seeking “privacy.” I doubt strangers are straining to hear your conversation, but I can totally understand why you wouldn’t feel like baring your soul in public!

Here’s what you can control: Which part of the apartment you choose to conduct your call in. The volume of your voice. Which outdoor spaces you visit. And, finally, perhaps most importantly, what you share with your partner and your therapist about your need for privacy.

It sounds to me like you’ve been trying to navigate this issue all on your own. Maybe you’re embarrassed to say something, but if you’re feeling exposed, one of the best ways to get the privacy you’re seeking may be to share this conflict with the people around you. People can’t help you unless they know you need help, so tell them about it. To me, seeing a new therapist seems like the perfect opportunity to address this. I would tell them the truth: that you’ve struggled to create a sense of privacy for yourself in the past. Ask them to help you to brainstorm solutions. I think once you do, simply knowing that they want to support you in creating this space for yourself will take a lot of the pressure off.

I can also think of several ways you can create a little more space for yourself with the help of your boyfriend. Ask him if he’d be willing to go for a walk while you’re having your weekly therapy session. Offer to give him his own “private time” in the apartment. This might provide some much-needed relief for both of you. If you can afford to, invest in a fan or white noise machine. Neither will mask the sound of your conversation completely, but it will muffle your words and make hearing what you’re saying clearly much more challenging. Do a few test runs with your boyfriend prior to therapy. See what works!

If your conflicts are so great that he cannot help or support you with this, then I believe you may be facing a more serious issue. In a healthy relationship, a partner should acknowledge, respect, and support your need for privacy. If he can’t, I would advise you to seek more serious support in creating that for yourself. 

No matter what, I promise you that you are not in this alone. You have a right to take up space, and you have a right to feel safe. You’re going to get through this, and there are people who will help you to do so. All you need to do is ask.

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