This post has been authored by Valerie Kuykendall-Rogers, MA, LPC-S as part of our guest post series. Learn more about Valerie at the bottom of this post.
How To Become an Online Therapist
The world of Online Counseling! It has so many different names–Tele Mental Health/Tele Counseling, etc. It can be confusing, at best, to determine if Online Counseling will be a good fit for you and your small business (aka private practice). There are so many misconceptions, misunderstandings, and just plain old mistakes when it comes to deciding whether to offer Online Counseling and my goal is to address them here. So, take a moment to sit back, relax, and discover the top 7 advantages of offering Online Counseling.
1. Quick Business Startup
Online Counseling can prove beneficial for individuals looking to start a private practice but are on the fence about it and for those individuals who may not have enough capital to start a business just yet. How? Well, first off, there is ZERO overhead costs (i.e., no rent to pay, no light bills, no property taxes, etc.). To conduct online counseling, there is no need for a brick and mortar location. Some states, however, may require certain credentialing (ex. Certified Distance Counselor) prior to conducting online counseling. As such, there may be an additional cost associated with conducting online counseling (i.e., training/certification).
In most states, however, where this is NOT a requirement, one can conduct Online Counseling with just a laptop/computer and the proper telehealth software. Of course, there are certain parameters to keep in mind, such as security/encryption, maintaining HIPAA compliance, BAA, etc. There is a great deal of telehealth software platforms that one can use that adhere to the stringent requirements.
2. Reduce No Shows
Online Therapy is a great deterrent to those clients who cancel or do not show up for their appointments. Late cancellations and no-shows equate to no income. Let’s face it, we are in a fee-for-service business and when we do not see clients, we do not get paid! Online Counseling can help. It guards against weather-related concerns that can preclude an anxious prone client from attending their therapeutic session. Imagine clients who call and say they are unable to attend because it is raining, flooding, or there is ice on the ground.
Now, imagine your response; “We definitely understand as your safety is our utmost concern. We also understand the need for continuity of care and we would hate for your care to be interrupted due to factors beyond your control. That is why we have a backup plan…online counseling. We would love to discuss this option with you further so that there will be no interruption in your care and you can remain safe.” You get the picture. Clients will love your empathic response as well as your professional approach! Both you and the client can remain safe from harm while continuing to provide warm, compassionate, professional care. And, there will be a reduction in loss of income.
3. Purple Cow Syndrome
Yes, that’s right, the Purple Cow! Seth Godin is a marketing genius (just my opinion). He wrote the book entitled The Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable. He postulates that the best business is a business that is unique, that stands out from the rest of the crowd. In our lingo, we call it having a niche/specialty.
Online Counseling can be your Purple Cow–a niche that has you standing out from all the other counselors in your area. Not only can you provide access to services others in your area are either not providing or not promoting, you can also provide online counseling in your state and promote yourself in a manner that allows clients to seek out a counselor who is available in non-traditional ways.
People are on their phone, laptops, and computers more than ever. Online Counseling positions you to take advantage of this opportunity to access a generation of people who are accustomed to using their computers for everything! Be a Purple Cow!
4. Work-Life Balance
Online counseling affords greater work-life balance. How so? Glad you asked. Imagine those days where you are stuck at the office, waiting for the next client to show, trying to figure out how to manage your daily life, while also taking care of your home life. Well, with online counseling, imagine you are already at home, seeing a few clients online in a nice, secure environment. No traffic to deal with, no need to rush home to complete a project, etc. You can close up your computer, step outside of your secure room, and go about your day. All easy peasy.
5. Statistically Beneficial
Many clinicians wonder about the efficacy of online counseling. Questions abound such as, “Is it as effective as face-to-face/in-person counseling?” or “Will people be less forward or open when conducting online counseling vs. in-person/face-to-face counseling?”, etc.
A recent study in 2013 posted in the Telemedicine Journal and E-Health indicated that “Today, telemental health services are unquestionably effective in most regards, although more analysis is needed. They are effective for diagnosis and assessment, across many populations (adult, child, geriatric, and ethnic), and in disorders in many settings (emergency, home health), are comparable to in-person care, and complement other services in primary care. (Telemed J E Health. 2013 Jun; 19(6): 444–454.)” Another article in the APA Monitor cited Lindsay Henderson, Psy.D., who is assistant director of psychological services at American Well (a Boston-based telehealth company), saying that online counseling helps “normalize mental health care, especially among generations now who are so accustomed to interacting with people using technology. …It just eliminates so many barriers.” There are many studies that speak to the positive nature and outcome of conducting online therapy so there is no need to be worried.
Online counseling provides accessibility to those who otherwise would not have access to services. Offering online counseling not only opens access to those individuals living in rural or hard to service areas, it also serves those who may otherwise be homebound and unable to drive, lack access public transportation, or suffer from limited mobility. As such, your practice can provide a much-needed resource to potential clients who may not otherwise attempt to access services.
Insurance companies, both managed and non-managed care, are also beginning to recognize the benefits of offering online counseling (i.e., telehealth) to their customers. Insurance companies have read the research and affirm the effectiveness of online counseling by offering reimbursement for this service to many of their customers. Moreover, an article was written by Bob Herman for Modern Healthcare in February 2016 entitled Virtual reality: More insurers are embracing telehealth speaks about the benefits of online counseling. “Nearly all payers now believe telehealth will help rural members access providers and may attract companies that want to offer modern conveniences to employees of the Netflix generation, who expect on-demand services. Insurers are also hoping telehealth will live up to its hype by keeping people out of more expensive healthcare settings.”
There are a growing number of Employee Assistance Programs (i.e., EAP) that are also offering to reimburse for online counseling. It is becoming so popular and commonplace, that when submitting an invoice for remittance for EAP services, they require that you indicate if it is In-Person or Via Telehealth! The reimbursement rates remain the same regardless of the location so there is no difference in remittance whether in person or online, further providing evidence of the parity of online and in-person counseling.
There you have it–seven advantages to providing online counseling! If you’re ready to become an online therapist, check out TheraNest’s Beginner’s Guide to Offering Online Therapy to get started. TheraNest gives you the tools you need to manage your therapy practice–whether you’re seeing clients in person or online. If you’re still interested in learning more about online counseling, the Telehealth Institute is a great place you can visit to find more information and access additional resources on this topic.
Valerie has a small business (aka private practice), Ascent Psychotherapy Center located in Houston, TX and also is the CEO of a separate, consulting business for Mental Health Entrepreneurs, A.P.E.X., LLC in Katy, TX.
If you would like more assistance and strategies on how to implement online counseling in your practice, visit Valerie Kuykendall-Rogers, MA, LPC-S at www.apexkaty.com. Valerie provides consulting services to mental health entrepreneurs.