Kristin Martinez, M.A., CCC-SLP, is a Clinical Quality Manager with PresenceLearning. Kristin started her career in 2000 working as an onsite SLP in her local community of Fort Collins, Colorado. In 2013, Kristin expanded her practice to teletherapy and has never looked back. We reached out to her this month for advice and best practices on setting up your teletherapy office.
First, let’s talk about how to set up a teletherapy home office to create a welcoming and engaging environment for the students, parents, and school staff you work with. What are the key elements therapists need to consider in setting up their workspace—from the student perspective?
The primary focus needs to be on creating the best possible visual and auditory environment for both the clinician and the student. Working in a private, quiet space with good lighting is essential. Make sure that you are selecting a space that minimizes any potential background noise and that maximizes light.
Experiment with lighting:
- If possible, avoid bright sunlit windows right behind you.
- If you must have a window behind, you’ll need to light your face from in front to balance the brightness behind you.
- Try bouncing light off the ceiling to brighten the room.
Once you have selected the optimal room or area in which to set up your therapy space, attend to your background! What will students, staff and parents see when they log in? Make it fun, but professional. Avoid visual clutter or items that might actually be distracting for some students. In my teletherapy office, I decorated the wall behind me with a few pieces of artwork given to me by my own children as well as former students—the perfect “office” view for my school-age clients, their teachers, and families!
Next, let’s talk about setting up your office so it really works for you and your workflow.
It can be very tempting when first becoming a teletherapist to schedule back-to-back sessions, five days a week! The kids just come to you! No more driving or running between buildings! While these aspects are tremendous advantages of teletherapy, it is important to remember to create a low-stress home-office environment that supports physical (and mental!) health. Here are a few key features to consider.
- Seating: solid chair, exercise ball? What will be best for your back during a long day of therapy?
- Desk: size, height? Do you have enough room to to stay organized and yet not feel cramped? Is the height comfortable to allow for continual keyboard and mouse use?
- Mini exercise studio? Great idea! Keeping a yoga mat, exercise ball, small weights, etc., tucked away next to your desk can be the perfect visual reminder to build breaks into your therapy schedule: stretch, breathe, take the dog for a walk! You’ll be a much happier (and healthier) teletherapist in the long run if you remember to take care of yourself!
- And just because you aren’t working in a school or a clinic doesn’t mean that you can’t keep fun photos on your desk! Students love to see photos of your family, pets, or hobbies, and maybe next time they’ll bring a photo to share!
Let’s talk about best practices you’ve learned for managing the technology. What equipment is required to conduct successful teletherapy sessions?
Here are some pointers that will help you get off to a smooth and successful start.
- Camera: Obviously, a good webcam is a must. Many laptop computers have built-in cameras, while you’ll need to purchase an external camera for a desktop computer. External webcams also have the advantage of being adjustable.
- Headset: For optimal audio during speech-language sessions, a quality headset with microphone is essential. There are many options available, so do your research to find the version most suitable for you!
- Monitor(s): Consider multiple monitors! I always worked with two monitors, and I have colleagues who even have three or four! Being able to keep your virtual therapy room on your main monitor but then have other monitors with your email, your favorite reference sites, etc., is so much better than continually flipping back and forth between tabs!
- Internet: If you have experienced poor internet connections/wifi in your home/office, check to see if there are any options for troubleshooting or upgrading. Good internet connections and strong wifi signals are crucial, and making sure this is in place will save you much frustration down the road.
- Laptop/monitor stand: Looking at a laptop screen all day long can lead to neck strain. Consider purchasing a monitor stand so that you can adjust the height of your screen to a more comfortable height.
- Browser: You might find that your video and audio run better on certain browsers—test Chrome and Firefox and see if you notice better performance with one or the other. Make sure you are using the current version of the browser.
And last, what do you love most about working in your teletherapy office?
I appreciate many things about working from home, but specific to my office, I love that I was able to find a space with lots of natural light, and a view of my backyard. I don’t miss the tiny speech-therapy offices (or no offices!) and lack of windows. And I know that many teletherapists have even better views that I do!