Online Therapy is like a Fender Rhodes

Keith Jarrett is a prodigious and respected jazz piano player. If you love jazz, you will know he famously refuses to play an electric keyboard or synthesizer. He is a purist and although he played a Fender Rhodes (an electric piano that uses tiny hammers like a real piano does) at the request of Miles Davis, he disliked it so much that he has made very few exceptions since (apparently only one!).

He has continued to have a successful career with an enormous dedicated following.

Other piano players like Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea went in a totally different direction, experimenting with synthesizers and sounds far beyond what a piano can do. Brad Mehldau, a composer and piano player with a unique and beautiful sound has expanded to experimenting with synths over the years. Music students, performers and YouTubers worldwide are composing impressive pieces of music and soundtracks using electronic instruments, platforms and technology.

How is this relevant to online therapy?

Think of in-person therapy as a piano and online therapy as a Fender Rhodes.

Most of us have resisted the move to working online or via the telephone at some point.

I used to feel most comfortable in the room with a client, and believed that working at a distance was less effective or even disruptive to the therapeutic connection. I tried out of necessity when I moved abroad over ten years ago, but it was hard to commit to a medium that did not feel right for me. 

Have you ever said…

“It’s impossible to make eye contact.”

“How can I only work with a view of a head?”

“Non-verbal communication is lost.”

I am not saying I was Keith Jarrett (!)… but I was resistant. My supervisor suggested I do a course or two and see if that changed how I felt about online and telephone therapy. 

It absolutely did. 

Some therapists are Herbie Hancock. They love working online, they try out screen share and white board functions, they love the flexibility and innovative things they can try. They set up workspaces at home with warm lighting, clear sound and a comfy chair. Some are Brad Mehldau and combine both, understanding that both mediums have their place and that different audiences, or in our case, clients, respond to each. Which is most effective? Do you prefer the piano or synth? Maybe one feels more natural to you. Maybe electric keyboards just don’t move you the way a piano solo does. 


Could you learn to connect with the sound of an electric keyboard?

I used to feel that the sound was too artificial. I resisted.

So what changed? 

I went to see Herbie Hancock perform live. I went to see Chick Corea. I went to see Brad Mehldau, many times, and was moved immeasurably and deeply by the music. I felt connected and present and inspired. I challenged myself to listen to music outside of my comfort zone, which really began with Nirvana and Guns’n’Roses. 

How do we apply this to our learning and implementation of online and telephone counselling?

It is natural to feel grief that we are not able to see our clients in person and to struggle with the hours of screen time and effects of blue light on our sleep.

And you might also be enjoying wearing comfortable clothes and slippers, and being able to pop to the kitchen for a cuppa and a snuggle with your pet or child. What else can help with the transition?

In my experience, experiential training is key.

We cannot fake conviction in this medium, nor should we when it is repeatedly shown to be as effective  (and in some cases more effective) as in-person therapy. We need not feel unprepared or anxious about technology. We can grow to love online therapy, even if you made the switch squished in the kitchen of a tiny Paris studio like I did and thought of it as the poor cousin of real in-person therapy.

To be the best online therapist I can be, and LOVE online therapy, my focus is on clarity, congruence and confidence.

  1. Organising my screening script, contract and other documents gives me clarity.
  2. Learning with passionate teachers who firmly believe in distance therapy helped me transform my own reservations so that I can share my conviction congruently with clients.
  3. Practising different scenarios with peers and putting procedures in place led to me feeling confident in my practice.

As therapists, we have an opportunity to not only use technology to continue our work, but to engage in this opportunity and expand our skills.

If we can return to the example of Keith Jarrett… This inspiring and influential player is known for being rigid, performing in the dark to stop people photographing him.

He has walked off stage and ended performances when audience members coughed because the interruption disrupts his focus.

Audiences are routinely given cough lozenges to prevent any such distraction. 

He is idiosyncratic and seems unwilling to adapt.

He writes and plays beautiful music.

So does Brad Mehldau.

Our Invitation to You

Join our online Private Practice Support Community on Facebook if you have any thoughts on this blog, feedback or just want to share how you are affected by Covid-19.

Join the waiting list for the next intake of “Learn to Love Online Therapy: The Experiential Programme”.

Take care. 


Photo Credit

Photographs of the Fender Rhodes generously shared by Dean Coyle, a friend of my cousin Jared’s!