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Should your therapist be online when you go on retreat?

I have just got back from a dancing and yoga retreat in Italy. It was truly amazing, in the beautiful Umbrian landscape with a group of incredible women. We have been dancing Nia, a sensory-based movement practice that draws from martial arts, dance arts and healing arts. It is designed to empower people by connecting the body, mind, emotions and spirit. Because of my personal and professional background, it has become increasingly apparent that this powerful experience can generate intense emotions which may need to be explored alongside or beyond the retreat. Typically these include relationship issues, depression and anxiety.

Over the years I have enjoyed various group holidays in some stunning locations across Europe. However, I have sometimes been aware of a small number of people who may have found the experience left them feeling vulnerable. In our everyday lives, most of us have become pretty good at maintaining our defences. These generally work for us in a positive way. However, when we are away from familiar surroundings with time to reflect on our lives and particularly, our relationships, this can create intense feelings. I believe there is a place for counselling support within and beyond the retreat experience.

As our retreat began with brief introductions, we began to share the ups and downs of the past year. There were losses; bereavements, divorce and separation, sons and daughters in the armed services posted to hostile countries, health concerns, stories of depression and anxiety and glimpses too of  challenges individuals had overcome. The resilience of the women in the group was both inspiring and humbling.

As we danced through the week and continued to share our stories, I found myself wondering how it might be possible to offer support – perhaps as part of the retreat leadership team or using online therapy. Online therapy, also known as e-therapy, is a relatively new development in mental health in which a therapist or counsellor provides psychological advice and support over the Internet. This can occur through e-mail, video conferencing, online chat, or Internet phone. Online therapy can occur in real-time, such as in phone conversations and online chatrooms, or in a time-delayed format, such as through e-mail messages. Skype is a great way of creating a forum for that support. Many counsellors now offer this facility, making it possible to choose someone appropriate to work with, quite apart from geographical location.

Could this be a solution to enhancing the retreat experience? Participants could then enjoy their body, mind and spiritual experience, confident in the knowledge that they can access the necessary emotional support during the retreat or once they go home.

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