As a therapist, you may have had to adjust to providing online therapy for your clients during this time of social distancing. This change seemed to come out of nowhere and many of us were unprepared for the changed it would bring. So, I wanted to offer some online therapy tips for therapists who are new to providing telehealth services.
Use a HIPAA-based platform for online therapy
Not all online therapy platforms are equally private. If you use a system that isn’t HIPAA-encrypted, it might be possible for people to view or download parts of your session. For example, some platforms that are not secure include FaceTime and the non-upgraded version of Zoom. But, there are plenty of platforms that are HIPPA-encrypted including doxy.me, Simple Practice, and VSee. A platform is not HIPAA-compliant if it will not provide a Business Associate Agreement (BAA). This is a document pledging that all employees of the technology company will treat your information client’s information with privacy.
Make sure you are licensed in the state where your client physically exists at the time of the telehealth session
Licensure laws are odd when it comes to telehealth. But, until we come up with a better system (such as PsyPact) it is still important to ensure that you aren’t endangering your license by practicing telehealth inappropriately. This means you have to limit yourself to only seeing clients who are present in the state you’re licensed in. Licensure laws still apply when your clients are on vacation, traveling from work, or home from school. Simultaneously, you must consider rather the mandate to provide continuity of care is worth seeing your clients when they’re outside of the state you’re licensed in.
Make sure your internet connection is working well and ask your clients to do the same
It’s important to beta test your internet before sessions. Over the last several weeks since moving our practice fully to telehealth, we’ve had clients’ internet cut out at the worst possible moments more than once. This interrupts the flow of our therapy sessions and hinders the progress we are making with our clients. So, before your first online therapy session do a couple “practice runs” with a friend or family member. Consider where in the house you are positioned compared to your internet router. Consider asking other members of your household to avoid using the internet while you are in online counseling sessions to help preserve bandwidth.
Make sure you have privacy to conduct your telehealth sessions
I’m sure that this goes without saying, but it is vitally important to have a locked and soundproofed area to work in when you provide telehealth. It’s important to be able to focus fully on your clients without being interrupted by roommates, spouses, children or pets. There have been memes going around about children interrupting online counseling sessions. But the truth is that this can be very distracting to you and your clients. If you are worried you’ll be distracted, you may not be providing the highest level of care. No matter how challenging it is, it’s critical to providing ethical care.
Get rid of notifications during telehealth sessions
Notifications can be distracting, especially if they deal with stressful topics like work or news updates. Pause notifications on your computer for the duration of your online therapy session. This will allow you will be able to concentrate fully on your clients’ thoughts, feelings, and body sensations. You’ll be fully present as a therapist and able to do your absolute best work.
Pay attention to your background
Keep in mind as you’re setting up your workstation that your clients will be able to see everything that’s behind you. Make sure your clients can’t see anything that is visually distracting or too personal in the background. Just like you carefully arrange your counseling office, think through what background will provide your counseling client the best possible experience.
Think about eye contact
It’s helpful to remember that clients will feel like you are looking directly at them when you look at the camera lens. Of course, you want to actually be able to see your client as well. So you’ll need to toggle back and forth between looking at the camera and looking at your client’s face. Also, try to avoid looking at your own face as much as possible. It’s distracting and can make you start feeling self-conscious.
Be in the medium-zone
Don’t sit too close to the camera, or too far away. Look at the computer screen that shows you what your clients are seeing to ensure that you are keeping an appropriate distance.
Make sure you’re in a comfortable position during telehealth sessions
During a typical online counseling session, you’ll be staring at a computer screen for a decent amount of time. So, paying attention to what’s happening in your body can be important. If you’re uncomfortable and fidgety because of where you’re sitting, you’ll have a harder time focusing on what your client is saying. And, you may have to interrupt the session to go somewhere else partway through. Try to avoid this by finding as comfortable a location and position as you are able, given the confines of privacy.
Ease into providing online therapy
It’s okay to have some trouble with telehealth at first. Especially if you’ve never offered online therapy before. Remember, that your warmth and genuineness can still shine through the computer. Our clients are resilient and strong people, and they will adapt to this change in time.
Counseling services offered by Monarch Wellness and Psychotherapy:
Our Washington DC counseling clinic provides a variety of psychotherapy services to help our clients find hope for a better tomorrow. We want to create a safe online space for our clients to be real and honest about the things that are bothering them. The counseling team at Monarch Wellness is currently offering all their psychotherapy services online to practice social distancing. We have therapists licensed in both Maryland and Virginia. Our mental health services include individual therapy, couples therapy, family therapy, and group therapy for adolescents, young adults, and adults in the D.C. area. Monarch Wellness and Psychotherapy staff specialize in eating disorder treatment including therapy Anorexia, Bulimia, and Binge Eating Disorder/Compulsive Overeating. In addition to eating disorders, our therapists specialize in helping clients manage and overcome their anxiety, depression, and trauma.