Therapy with The Virtual Counselors

The Virtual Counselors is a group therapy practice offering online therapy sessions to clients living throughout New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and Virginia. They specialize in working with individuals and couples on issues including anxiety, depression, trauma, relationship concerns, addictions, and infidelity. The Virtual Counselors are committed to providing highly individualized care and specialize in numerous treatment modalities, including somatic therapy and EMDR, to best support their clients.

We asked Zev Berkowitz of The Virtual Counselors about his work with clients and his guiding philosophies on therapy.

Practice Background

How was your practice started?

The Virtual Counselors was an idea conceived by founder Zev Berkowitz to fill a void in the mental health field. It seemed that most online counseling was being conducted by large companies who would often provide relatively inexpensive therapy (mostly by phone, text, or email) by inexperienced therapists. The Virtual Counselors was founded on the idea of providing clients with quality video-only therapy by highly trained and experienced therapists with specific specializations.

What kinds of backgrounds do providers at your practice have?

Our therapist backgrounds are very diverse. Some providers have gone the route of working in clinics and other group practices before becoming a member of The Virtual Counselors. Other clinicians have worked in hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, and schools. It is this diversification (and the fact that we meet regularly for peer supervision) that allows us to maintain many perspectives on how to best practice therapy.

Practice specialties and therapy philosophies

What guiding principles inform your work?

We pride ourselves in giving our clients the ability to work with a therapist when they want, from where they want, and with whom they want. We offer a very personalized and supportive experience from the initial contact.

We offer a free initial 15 minute consultation to assure a mutually good fit prior to matching clients up with a therapist who is most aligned with them and can most effectively deal with their unique challenges. All of our therapists have over 15 years experience and we bring a variety of certifications and modalities to our work with you.

What clientele do you work with most frequently?

When creating our group practice, we made a decision that we weren't going to try to be the "jack of all trades." We instead specialize in working with adults and couples specifically struggling with anxiety, depression, relationship challenges, trauma, PTSD, depression, and/or addiction. Within our relationship counseling specialty, we sub-specialize in working with couples dealing with trust, infidelity, or communication challenges.

Can you tell us more about your specialty in working with clients with anxiety and/or depression?

At least a fifth of all adults in the US will have at least one episode of depression in their lifetime. While the “classic” form of depression may involve lethargy, sleep/appetite disturbance, negative thoughts, and lack of interest in life, some depressed people exhibit agitation and anxiety, irritability and/or compulsive behaviors. The good news is, depression is also extremely treatable in the hands of an experienced professional.

At The Virtual Counselors, we know that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), mindfulness and meditation training, dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), and interpersonal therapy techniques can give a depressed person relatively rapid relief. We know that medication is sometimes a good choice, and physiological approaches like exercise and light exposure are important, too. Everyone worries or feels nervous from time to time.

Anxiety is a normal human reaction to stressful situations. But for people with anxiety disorders, those fears and worries aren't temporary. Their anxiety persists, and can even get worse over time. Though many types of anxiety disorders exist, research suggests that most are driven by similar underlying processes. People with anxiety disorders tend to become easily overwhelmed by their emotions, and they tend to have particularly negative reactions to those unpleasant feelings and situations.

Anxiety disorders are very treatable. The majority of patients who suffer from anxiety are able to reduce or eliminate symptoms after several (or fewer) months of psychotherapy, and many patients notice improvement after just a few sessions. Through the cognitive component of therapy, clients learn to understand how their thoughts contribute to their anxiety symptoms and, by learning to change those thought patterns, clients can reduce the likelihood and intensity of anxiety symptoms. With the behavioral component of therapy, clients learn techniques to reduce undesired behaviors associated with anxiety disorders.

Can you tell us more about your work with couples?

We  work with relationship issues, with sub-specializations in relationships that have gone "stale," relationships where trust has been broken (infidelity, addiction, etc.), and/or where communication is very weak. We also work individually with people suffering with a behavioral addiction (sex, porn, gambling, internet, etc.).

We work with couples and individuals within a couple. We focus on teaching/modeling new communication skills, as well as rebuilding trust and safety after a breach.

We teach couples how to mirror one another as well as validate and empathize so that they can feel heard and seen. We work on breaking bad patterns and cycles to create healthier ones using positivity and appreciation.

Can you tell us about your specialty in somatic therapy?

Somatic therapy is a form of body-centered therapy that looks at the connection of mind and body and uses both psychotherapy and physical therapies for holistic healing. In addition to talk therapy, somatic therapy practitioners use mind-body exercises and other physical techniques to help release the pent-up tension that is negatively affecting your physical and emotional wellbeing. Somatic therapy can help people who suffer from stress, anxiety, depression, grief, addiction, problems with relationships, and sexual function, as well as issues related to trauma and abuse.

What do you find most rewarding about your work?

We believe that we live in such a fast paced and anxiety producing world, that a listening ear and a safe space is the most important environment we can provide. We get a tremendous boost of energy when we see couples learn and implement communication and intimacy techniques. To help our clients reduce their anxiety or create opportunities for more happiness is a most rewarding outcome for us.

Therapy sessions with The Virtual Counselors

What will our first session together be like? What happens in ongoing sessions?

Understand that the first session with your therapist will be different from future visits. The initial visit is a period for you to get to know each other and get an idea of how to proceed. Future visits will be more therapeutic in nature. For example, in your second session, you may explore a specific symptom, problem, or past trauma you mentioned in the first session.

During the first session, our therapist may ask you: "What brought you to therapy?" or "What do you feel is wrong in your life?" Other questions your therapist will likely ask will be about your history (including your childhood, education, and relationships), your current living situation, and your career.

How long do clients typically see you for?

Most clients are with us for a minimum of three months and average coming to therapy for about one year. In rare cases, clients are with us for multiple years.

Do you assign “homework” between sessions?

We give our clients homework often and also often ask for a "mid-week update" to let us know their insights and experiences with the homework. We view therapy as more than a once-a-week session. Therapy is a full-time journey for every client.

For instance, we might ask a client to be hyper-aware of their every thought and reaction for an entire week and to take notes on what they notice. We might ask a client to practice looking at particular situations or a person in their life in a different way than usual. We might ask a client to do a particular mindfulness practice that we design for them and take notes on the results. We might even ask them to do a particular task that they have been resisting.

How do you help ensure I'm making progress in therapy?

In many cases, it’s difficult for clients to know whether they’re making progress because many therapists do not necessarily state the goals and desired outcomes of therapy sessions. Research shows that when both therapist and client receive feedback on progress, clients tend to have better outcomes.

Therefore, when clients are treated at The Virtual Counselors, however, they know how well therapy is working, because our therapists monitor progress each week by evaluating clients’ symptoms, measuring the occurrence of specific target behaviors, and assessing progress toward specific goals,

How can I prepare for our first session?

Many people feel nervous for their first therapy appointment. It’s hard to know what to expect, and it can feel like a big leap of faith to open up to someone. It’s important to remember all of these feelings are normal! Being vulnerable in a way that you aren’t used to and sharing one's thoughts with a stranger can be difficult.

There’s a common misconception that therapy means we have some big issue or problem. However, going to therapy doesn’t mean you are "crazy" or "broken." A therapist’s job is to help you figure out what your goals in therapy are. The therapist is very likely to ask you in the first session questions like: “What brought you in to talk with me?” or “What would you like to focus on?” They may even ask “How will you know when you have met your goal?” It would be beneficial to think about these questions in advance in preparation for your first session.

Also, remember that the first session is an interview both ways to assure a mutual good fit. Feel free to ask your therapist questions that might help you feel if they are the therapist that is going to be the best for you.

How will I know it’s time to end my time in therapy with you or reduce session frequency?

Most people don’t have healthy endings in their life, so the process of reducing frequency of sessions (and eventually ending therapy) is one we at The Virtual Counselors think a lot about. When therapy ends is a discussion your therapist will have with you and keep you "in-the-loop" about as you progress.

The frequency of therapy is usually based on symptom intensity, but other factors can determine therapy length and/or frequency. For example, a client's insurance might only pay for a certain amount of sessions each year, so this might determine how your therapist spaces sessions out.

Clients are often reluctant or feel insecure about leaving therapy, which is understandable! These thoughts need to be addressed and sometimes other hesitancies (like feeling competent and secure in one's ability to manage symptoms, etc) need to be reinforced prior to ending therapy.

Visit The Virtual Counselor’s profile to watch an introductory video, read more, and book an initial call!