Zoom fatigue in counsellors.  Is that a thing?

Since the beginning of 2020 our lives have changed dramatically. Under lockdown, much of what we do is from behind a screen and online.  For many of us as counsellors, Zoom has become a part of our daily lives

So how does that affect us and our interaction with people?

A recent research paper from Stanford University describes why video conferencing can be so tiring.

    Five Reasons for Zoom Fatigue in counsellors

    Being Constantly On Show

    In a normal interaction, the speaker is not always looking at you.

    Think about face to face therapy for example. Your client does not look directly at you all the time, they might look down, they might gaze out of the window while they are thinking, they might glance around the room.

    However, when video conferencing, someone is looking at you all the time.

    Public speaking terrifies many of us. Video conferencing gives a similar effect when the “gallery” view is on. Even though you may not be speaking there’s a whole sea of faces looking at you.  This can feel very uncomfortable.

    Sitting Close to the Screen

    The size of faces on the screen can also be unnerving. If someone is sitting close to the screen it makes it seem as though they are physically close to you. This type of intimacy only happens in real life when people get this close to either fight or mate.

    Consequently, this causes a constant state of hyper arousal. That’s an interesting factor to consider when working with vulnerable clients.



    Zoom Fatigue Counsellors

    Image by Christ Montgomery on Unsplash

    Seeing Your Reflection Causes Zoom Fatigue

    Do you look at photographs of yourself critically? Do you always want to choose the flattering ones and ditch the ones that make you look fat?

    If you’ve got a viewing pane of yourself open when you’re on a video call, it’s like you’re constantly looking in a mirror. This can increase self-criticism.

    Reduced Mobility

    When you’re on a Zoom call, you’re not moving around very much.

    Think about when you’re counselling someone face to face. What sort of chair do you sit in? Is it a traditional office type or a dining room chair that you’re using in front of your laptop?

    It’s more likely that when you’re counselling face to face you’ll be sitting in lounge type furniture that is more comfortable. You’ll sit back and cross your legs. Or you may move forward to indicate your engagement when the client is telling you something difficult.

    All these types of movements tend to be much more restricted on video calls.  This causes Zoom fatigue too.

    Reading Body Language is Difficult on Zoom

    It is much more difficult to read body language on a video call.

    • You have to concentrate more to try and pick up visual clues
    • You or your clients may be using exaggerated body movements (for example, nodding your head emphatically) to communicate
    • Movements that would “perceptually significant” in a different context are insignificant on a video call. This means a client moves in some way that would have meaning if you were in the room with them – but on a call, it is different. However, because you’re used to dealing with this in real life, your brain has to take up processing power working out what is going on.

    These factors cause what researchers call “cognitive overload”.

    Zoom Fatigue Counsellors

    Image by Dylan Ferreira on Unsplash

    How Can Counsellors Address Zoom Fatigue?

    There are several ways you can make video conferencing less tiring:

    • Move away from the screen so that people do not feel so close. This could help your clients too.
    • Turn off the “self view”, i.e., the small window that reflects what you are doing.
    • If possible, try and introduce some mobility to your call. Consider how and where you sit for your calls

    Consider Alternatives to Video Conferencing

    Research has shown that telephone therapy is just as effective as face to face workIn the headlong rush to maintain work when lockdown was announced, video conferencing was embraced as the way forward.

    And yet telephones are a tried and trusted technology that most people have no problem in using. They remove the arousal features of Zoom, the cognitive overload, they enable mobility – and they’re not so subject to the internet going down.

    Food for thought.

    Looking for more support?

    Josephine seeks to help therapists by providing them with a supportive online community.  This is both via her free Facebook group – Good Enough Counsellors – and her paid membership group.  The Therapy Growth Group provides fortnightly coaching and networking sessions together with daily support via Facebook.  Contact Josephine to find out more.

    The information contained above is provided for information purposes only. The contents of this article are not intended to amount to advice and you should not rely on any of the contents of this article. Professional advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from taking any action as a result of the contents of this article.  Josephine  disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on any of the contents of this article.