As I’ve outlined in the past two weeks, there is a lot we know and a lot we don’t know about online therapy. If you’re considering moving part or all of your practice online, there are a lot of things to consider. Do you have the appropriate technology, and are you comfortable using it? Do you have policies and practices ready for online work? Have you ensured that your online work will be fully legally and ethically compliant, and consistent with best practices like those outlined in the new AAMFT Online Therapy Best Practices guide? Are your clients appropriate for online therapy?
Many therapists wrestle with the choice of whether to practice online. While these are not determining factors -- in other words, I’m not saying your final decision should be to practice online, as there’s more to consider than what’s below -- here are four good reasons to consider making the move.
It lowers your costs
Offering therapy online of course requires that you take adequate steps on your end to protect the privacy and confidentiality of your work. But it doesn’t require you to rent and furnish a full office and waiting room. An online practice can operate with far lower overhead than an in-person one.
It gives you flexibility
In an in-person practice, if you know you’ll be travelling out of town next week, you’ll probably need to reschedule all of those sessions. If you’re practicing online, you may be able to stay on schedule. Of course, you would need to attend to those same privacy and confidentiality concerns, and you would need to make sure the network where you will be is appropriately secured and offers enough bandwidth for you work. And if you’ll be out of state, that raises some potential regulatory questions; many states suggest that therapy takes place where the client is physically located at the time of service, but not all states take that stance. So you may want to check on the state laws where you will be travelling to. But all that said, it remains a lot more likely that you can maintain a steady practice and a steady income while travelling if your practice is online.
It allows for narrower specialization
Some clients have rare problems and try desperately to find specialists who have strong knowledge and experience with their specific issue. It’s difficult to find such specialists in much of the country. So these clients may be more willing to work with online practitioners. For therapists, it can be hard to fill a full-time practice with a narrow specialty if you’re only seeing clients in person. But working online opens up whole new markets, and may make it possible for you to be much more successful working only with a narrow subset of clients.
Clients appreciate it
The first three items on this list are all about you. Of course, it’s worth considering the impact of online practice on your clients. They may be especially grateful for being able to receive therapy without travelling to a therapist’s office, without worry over getting there on time, without finding parking, and via a familiar home computer. Some clients do prefer face-to-face work. But others prefer to work online, and by moving your practice online, you have now made everyone who fits that description into a prospective client.
Benjamin E. Caldwell, PsyD is a Los Angeles-based Clinical Fellow of AAMFT. He chaired the workgroup that developed Best Practices in the Online Practice of Couple and Family Therapy. The Best Practices document is now available from AAMFT. Have questions about online therapy? Join Dr. Caldwell on May 5, 2017 for a webinar on online therapy hosted by AAMFT. More information can be found here.