Are you thinking about starting your own online private practice? Are you feeling nervous or uncertain about how best to get started? Not sure if it is the right fit for you? Feeling confused about where to begin? This list of 5 things to consider before beginning an online counseling practice. It will help to vanquish the worry and increase your confidence in this new endeavor!
Do you know any other counselors, social workers, psychologists or psychiatrists in your professional circle who have added online counseling to their practices? Start by consulting with these professionals. They can be a wealth of information. You can learn about the pros and cons of online counseling. It can give you insight into their journey into this new realm of counseling via technology.
Many reputable organizations offer free or low cost continuing education opportunities in the area of technology and counseling:
- Zur Institute or Person Centered Tech. These organizations can be helpful in answering your initial questions and determining if online counseling is the right fit for you.
If you decide you want to start your own online practice, then a credentialing course can be beneficial via:
- Telebehavioral Health Institute or Center for credentialing & Education
It is essential that you are working within your scope of practice. So credentialing in distance therapy can give you this added knowledge. These courses will cover the basics of online counseling platforms, strategies to navigate technology, the role of HIPAA, counseling strategies that are useful in distance therapy, crisis intervention skills, etc. When you add online counseling credential to your knowledge base, you will be more skillful as an online clinician. You will also have some added protection in case of legal proceedings.
Once you have gained a thorough knowledge of distance therapy, you will be ready to investigate online counseling platforms. Will you be providing email-based counseling? Phone or video therapy options? It is important to select mediums where you feel comfortable – both with the technology and in doing therapy. You can then begin sampling different secure email programs, phone services, video conferencing software and electronic health record (EHR) options. It is also important to ensure that each platform is willing to sign a Business Associate Agreement (BAA). This agreement must be in place between you and each partner. So as to maintain protected health information (PHI) and overall HIPAA compliance.
Now that you’re trained in online therapy procedures and have selected your counseling platforms, you’re ready to develop the forms for your practice. You will likely need to create or revise existing forms for: intake, informed consent, HIPAA disclosure, release of information, etc. You will need to decide how best to share these forms with your clients across a distance and have them signed and returned to you. It can also be helpful to consult with a local business attorney to review your paperwork. Some sample paperwork can be found here.
Whether you already have a liability policy to protect your existing practice or need to obtain a new policy, it is es to inquire with the company about their policies regarding online counseling. Be sure that they will cover distance therapy and any stipulations that the insurance company might have. In addition, the insurance company will also encourage you to consult with your state licensing board. It will ensure that you are well versed in any rules or policies that your local board has in regard to online therapy in your state.
Tackle these 5 areas first. You will feel confident and prepared to begin your online counseling journey!
Wendy Galyen, LCSW and BC-TMH, is the founder of Thrive for Life Online Counseling, a solely private pay and entirely online private practice in Indiana. She has degrees from the University of Indianapolis and Indiana University where has also served as an adjunct faculty member. Wendy has over 16 years of experience working with individuals, couples, families, and children. She also has extensive social work research experience. Wendy has published and presented this research in textbooks, journals, online periodicals, magazines and at national conferences. In addition to her work with clients via online counseling mediums, Wendy also provides consultation services to other counselors who are looking to add online counseling as a component of their practices.