How to Start Offering Online Therapy Sessions
Are you ready to learn how to start offering online therapy sessions? The telemental health demand has been on a gradual uptick for years and is expected to reach 15.15 billion in sales by 2026. This demand is surging right now with COVID-19 and social distance guidelines in place, leaving many professionals scrambling to adapt their business model to allow for remote therapy sessions.
With HIPAA-compliant technologies, shifting to remote therapy is easier than ever before. Yet, there are still plenty of issues to address before offering online therapy sessions.
What is teletherapy?
Teletherapy simply means offering your therapy session online. It’s also sometimes called e-therapy, distance therapy, or web therapy. It’s a way to meet with your clients online.
What are the benefits of teletherapy?
One obvious advantage of teletherapy right now is the ability to continue practicing despite social distancing and quarantining. However, other benefits include greater convenience for you and your clients, as well as the opportunity to save money on renting a space. In addition, no-shows and cancellations are less likely to occur, and you can be flexible with your hours.
What telemental health services will you offer?
Before you begin offering online therapy sessions, it’s important to consider how you’ll start your business in general. Refer to our guide on how to start a therapy practice for more details about getting a new business up and running.
Consider your ideal clients and come up with a list of the best ways to provide service. Many therapists adopt a hybrid solution that combines several methods of delivering mental health services. Different options include:
- Traditional landline telephone services
- Video conference sessions
- Text messaging
Review target market research
Not all clients are well-suited for different forms of online therapy sessions. This stems from individual capabilities and conditions that require different approaches. Refer to your initial research when you started your therapy practice to determine what types of online services fit your clientele.
For instance, some patients want to work through their issues via email. Email communications give clients space to write out their thoughts. But, for sessions to be effective, you’ll need to deliver targeted questions and follow up with an online therapy session. You may offer email assistance as an add-on or stand-alone service.
Other clients aren’t comfortable with face-to-face sessions. Consider turning off the camera and using only audio. As your patients feel more comfortable with you and the online environment, then work towards their participation in an online session.
Look at what your competition offers
Stay competitive and differentiate yourself by filling in gaps left by competitors. Write down the different formats they use to offer online therapy sessions. Ask yourself how you can go above and beyond their offerings to make your program more inclusive. For example, consider:
- Creating packages that include different online mediums like email and video conferencing
- Developing condition-specific mini-sessions to allow fast support to those who need it
- Offering online therapy sessions where clients pick their device and outlet
Find easy methods that match your needs
As a therapist, you need to feel comfortable with the formats you use. While you should be flexible to support a range of capabilities, also remember that if you don’t feel comfortable, then neither will your clients. For example, if you don’t feel comfortable providing email or messaging communication because it feels like you’re “always working,” then you consider limiting your offerings to video conferencing.
Pick the right equipment for your online therapy sessions
Fortunately, offering online therapy sessions doesn’t require expensive equipment. In fact, you may already have what you need in your home or office. To start offering online therapy sessions, you’ll need access to:
- A high-speed internet connection
- One or more devices like a desktop computer, smartphone, or tablet
To provide the best service, you may want to add an external microphone and headphone combo. These deliver better sound for you and the patient while ensuring a high level of privacy. If your camera is outdated, then consider buying an external camera for a clear video as well.
Teletherapy phone systems
VoIP, like 8×8, provides you with many options for reaching your clients, from a phone call to a video meeting. The benefit of a phone system is that your clients don’t need to download an app or take extra measures to connect with you. Instead, they use any device and click on your link or call in using the provided phone number and access code.
Online therapy applications
An application, like TheraNest or SimplePractice, combines practice management software and calling tools into one spot, which streamlines billing and notetaking. Some systems charge per therapist while others charge per patient. However, it’s essential to compare tools to make sure the one you want is compatible with all devices.
Tools to support your private practice
Your teletherapy practice also needs a way to manage client details, billing, and reimbursement processes easily. Look for tools that integrate with systems used for calls. Integrated systems help you automate client engagement and ensure that you’ll get paid. Popular programs, like Trapollo, give you a dashboard to place all communications in one spot.
Ensure patient confidentiality
Regardless of how you’ll provide online therapy sessions, you must guarantee patient confidentiality. Neither Skype nor FaceTime is HIPAA compliant. Two popular ways to administer remote therapy are through a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone system or through a mental health application. Before committing to a provider, ensure that their online therapy platforms provide:
- Secure data storage using encryption and high-quality data centers
- Certified via the Statement on Standards for Attestation Engagements 16 (SSAE16)
- A business associate agreement (BAA) ensuring HIPAA compliance
Create onboarding documents to help your teletherapy clients
Make the process of joining your teletherapy session as easy as possible by creating a document that explains how to sign on and get the most out of online therapy sessions. Include information on:
- How to set up their device, audio, and video
- Steps to take to sign on or start their telemental health call or video
- Explain the importance of adjusting for appropriate light, less noise, and more privacy
Check current state laws and reimbursement policies to see what type of consent forms are needed for online therapy sessions. It’s also critical to note the location of emergency services for each client you serve virtually. Both you and your patient should understand where to go if they need emergency help.
How to deliver teletherapy onboarding documents
Accessibility: Explain documents or how-to guides in various ways. Add captions to video and audio files. Use plain text, not big or industry-specific jargon. Give clients options for extra help when filling out onboarding materials.
Learning styles: Consider using infographics or videos to run clients through how to set up your telehealth system. Not everyone understands written instructions, so create onboarding documents to suit various learning styles.
Market Your Online Therapy Sessions
Develop a plan for marketing your online therapy sessions. This may differ from your current marketing mix that targets specific locations. If you still offer onsite visits, then keep these campaigns alive but integrate them with extra content recommending your digital solutions.
Research keywords for search intent
You may need to adjust keywords on your website to target terms like “online” or “remote.” Use Google Trends to see what folks look for when it comes to therapy. For instance, the phrase “online therapy that takes insurance” has grown substantially over the past year. Other breakout topics include:
- Online speech therapy
- Best online therapy
- Online therapy chat
- Therapist vs. counselor
- Online counseling services
Develop marketing campaigns for a target audience
Pinpoint why your potential clients are searching online for mental health services. Do they need help for themselves or another family member? Will you provide condition-specific care or prefer to work with clients in your country or city?
Use your private practice research to create a marketing mix. Avoid being dependent on one platform for clients by distributing your campaign in many ways:
- Create Google or Bing search ads
- Send out emails letting folks know you offer online sessions
- Give a discount for clients who refer new patients
- Beef up your social media with regular posts and ads
- Post a sign on your office doors
Measure progress to avoid wasting time
Lastly, don’t forget to capture details about where new clients come from. Marketing takes time and costs money. Your mix should include some quick wins, like lead generation forms on social media, along with long-term strategies. Simply adding a box on your intake form for new users to list how they found out about you is helpful.
Start offering online therapy sessions today
With the right tools and resources, therapists deliver high-quality services that protect vulnerable patients. But, you also need to market your private practice to inform folks that you offer teletherapy. Stay on top of the latest news and best practices to get the support you need for a successful private practice.