Modern telehealth options have made it easy for therapists to offer services on a remote basis. And clients who travel frequently but want to stay consistent with their therapy schedule have boosted the popularity of remote therapy. But the COVID-19 pandemic has forced therapists offering telehealth services out of their offices and into their homes, which introduces unique challenges. Having therapists working remotely now is a necessity. But many are unsure how to set up their home offices in a way that’s compliant and conducive to work. Let’s explore best practices for working remotely as a therapist.
Benefits of Working Remotely as a Therapist
First, although there are challenges, it’s good to recognize the benefits of working remotely. Here are four of the top advantages of remote work.
Ability to Offer Services to a Wider Range of Clients
When you provide telehealth, you’re able to offer services to a wider range of clients. People don’t need to be located in your immediate geographic area to participate, and those with health conditions that prevent them from driving to your office consistently can still get the help they need from the comfort of their own homes.
Saves Time Spent Commuting
If you’re not commuting, you can devote that time to other things. You have more time for professional development, reading, and even personal projects. Many therapists are finding that they actually like not having to drive into the office every day.
Working remotely allows you to save not only gas money, but also the costs associated with renting office space — janitorial service, office amenities like water, mints, and tissues, and maybe even your monthly rent if you’re planning to work remotely long-term.
Greater Flexibility in Managing Home-life and Work-life
Perhaps the biggest benefit is the flexibility you have when it comes to managing home and work as a unit. We typically divide our days up into work-life and home-life — with each fitting into its own time-boxed constraints. But working remotely allows you to get that laundry done during your lunch break or take a walk around the block if you need to clear your mind.
Challenges of Working Remotely as a Therapist
It’s also important to look at the challenges involved in working remotely so you’re aware of potential problems. With an understanding of the challenges, you’re better able to solve them.
Difficulty Maintaining Privacy and Confidentiality for the Client
HIPAA laws are still in effect, even though Medicare is allowing alternative telehealth platforms during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s just as important as ever to maintain the privacy and confidentiality of your clients. And if you have a house full of family members, this can prove challenging without using creativity.
Difficulty Maintaining Privacy for the Therapist
You’ll also want to consider your own privacy. Your home is your safe space, your retreat from the world, with the personal items that make it so. Additionally, if you have children, you’ll want to protect their privacy as well. If you don’t have a separate room available to use as an office, maintaining your privacy during sessions may be challenging.
Increased Chances of Interruptions
A spouse or roommate popping in to ask a question, kids opening the door when wanting to play, a neighbor playing loud music next door. . . . The potential for interruptions is endless when working from home. Fortunately, there are ways to mitigate these interruptions, which we’ll cover as we review best practices.
Potential Safety Issues for Severely-struggling Clients
Some clients are reluctant to offer telehealth services for clients with PTSD or other issues that could cause distress and aren’t well managed. In an office environment, you have greater control over how you can help a client. When the client is in their own environment, which may or may not feel like (or be!) a safe space for them, triggers are more likely. You may want to postpone doing deep trauma work or using EMDR with clients who don’t have a well-established history with you.
Best Practices for Providing Mental Health Services from Home
Therapists who’ve been at the work-from-home gig for a while now have become quite creative in coming up with solutions to meet the challenges. Let’s explore several ideas that will help you overcome problems that may arise.
Set up a Space in Your Home to be HIPAA-compliant
HIPAA compliance is first and foremost. A dedicated room is best, but you can also set up in a secluded part of your home away from family members. Even a walk-in closet will do the trick. To ensure the privacy of your clients, here are several tactics to keep your sessions under wraps.
Use noise machines — Noise machines are a therapist’s go-to when it comes to preventing conversations from being overheard. Noise machines can be ordered online and set up strategically outside the door and in the spaces around your session area.
Use earbuds — Earbuds can serve as another layer of protection for preventing others in your home from hearing what a client is saying.
Be sure that family members understand that they cannot interrupt for any reason — Family members need to know that you are not available, just as you would be unavailable if you were in your normal office. Explain why it’s so important that they not interrupt, and hang a sign on your door as a reminder.
Choose a HIPAA-compliant telehealth software — Although Medicare has made special allowances for non-compliant platforms (like Skype and FaceTime) during the pandemic, using HIPAA-compliant software will make your clients more comfortable and will prevent issues like the widespread Zoom hacking incidents from hindering the effectiveness of therapy.
Be sure that family members can’t access your client files or other sources of information — If you’re storing files and other client documents in your home, make it clear to family members that these items are off-limits, and be sure not to leave them lying about.
Keep Personal Items Out of View
While it’s perfectly fine for clients to see you in your home environment, be aware of what is visible in the frame when you’re in a session. Keep personal items out of view that you don’t want to be seen.
Adjust Your Treatment Techniques to Accommodate the Limitations of Telehealth
You may need to modify the treatment plans of certain clients to accommodate telehealth or postpone deep trauma work if clients are not comfortable in their home environments. Many clients will easily adapt to the telehealth format, while others will do better waiting to work on deeper issues until they can get back into your office. In the meantime, you can work on building skills and using other interventions.
It’s also important to seek continual feedback from the client about their comfort level as you progress through treatment. If anything changes in the client’s environment, you’ll want to be aware. Or if a client becomes uncomfortable with EMDR or other interventions while using telehealth, you’ll want to know so you can change paths.
It’s Possible to Succeed Working Remotely as a Therapist
Know that it’s possible to successfully help your clients while working from home. Even though there are challenges to the setup, creative problem-solving will allow you to ensure that clients are receiving the help they need, especially during a time of crisis such as the current pandemic.
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