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Is Online Therapy Practical for Your Practice?

Updating Your Professional WillAs there are only so many hours in the day, and only so many days in the week, therapists running solo or small practices are very aware of time limitations, and are always looking for ways to boost revenue outside of the standard in-office session time. Before running out and investing a lot of time and money in developing an online therapy practice, however, it is important to first consider your own skills and the time you have available to reinvest in your business. Here are a few points to consider before taking the plunge into online counseling:

Is it possible to develop a practice that is built solely on online therapy services? Building a practice that is completely web-based is certainly possible, but it can also be somewhat daunting. Building a thriving client based practice is already a challenge for many office-based therapists. Therapists wanting to structure an all web-based counseling service may struggle with different challenges. First, clients may be hesitant to trust an online provider. Second, there are segments of the prospective client population who have never gone beyond basic computer functions such as web searches, emailing, and online shopping, and such prospective clients may not be comfortable enough with their computer skills to attempt to engage in online web conferencing. On the other hand, the overhead costs associated with running an office-based practice may outweigh these concerns as running an online therapy practice may be more cost-effective in the long run. Web-based practices can be run from an office in one's own home, thereby allowing a huge discount in your practice’s start-up costs.

Do you have the time to add online therapy to your calendar? How full is your current calendar? Is your goal to add client sessions outside of regular business hours, thereby expanding both your case load and your work hours? Maybe your goal is to fill calendar gaps throughout the day, thus decreasing the number of empty hours on your schedule, and maximizing your efficiency? Assess how many hours you are currently working and how many hours you can work. Providing online services can help fill in your calendar gaps, as well as your wallet.

Are your tech-comfortable clients tech savvy enough to deal with the pitfalls of technology? We have all lived through computer problems. Computers can crash, internet service can be spotty, online signals can disconnect, service providers can go down without warning, and even downloading and understanding new software applications can present complex problems that must be overcome in order to stay in business. Is your client skilled enough to get started with new software, maintain consistent service, and deal with session disruptions without difficulty or added distress? It is important to consider the skills of your respective clients prior to initiating online therapy sessions.

Do you have the necessary technology and hardware available? The right technology can mean the difference between a smooth session and a disorganized session. Internet speed, video conference provider selection, and a web cam are just a few of the basics needed for online counseling. Of equal importance is the level of comfort the practitioner feels with technology. Being tech savvy is not essential to offer online therapy, but becoming comfortable with the technology and understanding how to troubleshoot tech issues is important to avoid disruption from the unexpected.

Have you researched how web therapy differs from face-to-face therapy, and are you able to adapt to the differences? For example, therapists are trained to watch for physical cues and body language, but online therapy may only provide clues through facial expressions and vocal inflections, thus omitting the majority of one's body language. The emergence of online therapy has created resources for therapists to gain insight, training, and certifications which facilitate their ability to understand and adapt to this up-and-coming medium of therapy.

Do you have the right surroundings? Maybe you don't need to be in an office, but you still want to appear professional throughout your online client session. Make sure the space you use for online therapy looks like an office environment, with privacy and plenty of light. The last thing you want is to have your professionalism questioned becauseeither your client cannot see you, or because your home office arrangement fails to consider the impact of a neighbor’s lawnmower or barking dog. Test your webcam set up to see what your clients will see and hear ahead of time, and practice using your web cam with a friend or colleague.

Will you be offering your online services to existing clients, new clients, or both? Some of your existing clients may find online counseling more convenient, particularly during busier times of their lives when they may be in greater need of therapy. New clients who have been hesitant to seek in-office therapy may be more apt to seek online services, particularly if such clients suffer from physical and/or mental conditions which inhibit their travels out of the home. Providing the option of attending online therapy sessions may significantly enhance both your business and your revenue stream.

Have you done your research? HIPAA compliance, the Business Associates Agreement, and secure video platforms are all aspects of mandatory research before you launch your online service. In addition, make sure to review your national or state Association recommendations and state licensing board regulations. Lastly, consult with your liability insurance provider to understand your coverage within the scope of your practice.



Read the complete issue: The Argonaut Navigator, April 2015 Issue

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