Tamara Howell


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  • 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 touch an electric keyboard or synth. He is a purist and only once did he perform using a Fender Rhodes, at the request of Miles Davis.

Even though a Rhodes uses tiny hammers like a piano does, he disliked playing on an electric piano so much, he swore off all keyboards except real pianos. 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, an influential and beautiful composer and piano player with a unique 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 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.

“It’s impossible to make eye contact.”
“How can I only work with a view of a head?”
“Non-verbal communication is lost.”

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. 

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 electronic music just doesn’t move you the way a piano solo does. 


Could you learn to connect with the sound of a Fender Rhodes? 

I used to strongly dislike the sound of a Rhodes. I found the sound was just too muddy and artificial. I resisted.

So what changed?

A visceral shift.

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?

My questions for you are:

✅ Would practising different scenarios help you to feel more confident? 

✅ Would organising scripts and documents give you clarity? 

✅ Would learning with a passionate teacher who firmly believes in online therapy help you transform your own beliefs and share that conviction congruently with clients?

If you have heard of Keith Jarrett, you will also know that he is incredibly rigid, and will often perform in the dark to stop people photographing him.

He has walked off stage and ended performances when an audience member coughs because the interruption disrupts his focus. Audiences are routinely given cough lozenges to prevent any such distraction.  He is idiosyncratic and unwilling to adapt.

He writes and plays beautiful music.

But so does Brad Mehldau.

Let me know what you think of my analogy in the comments, community or by email! 


Image Description & Photo Credit

Three photographs of Fender Rhodes keyboard generously shared by Dean Coyle, a friend of my cousin Jared’s.

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