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5 Mistakes to Avoid in Providing Online Therapy

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The expansion of online therapy was swift and comprehensive after the COVID-19 pandemic set in. As a result, those providing all kinds of mental health support had to move practices fully online, and many of those practices have remained online ever since.

More than two years after the pandemic’s onset, there is no doubt online therapy will be a significant part of the mental health profession moving forward. However, that doesn’t mean the transition has been easy. The major shift toward online therapy has been difficult for both patients and therapists who had grown accustomed to working together in person.

Mental health professionals had to adjust on the fly, and some are still learning the ins and outs of making such a dramatic transition without warning. Today, more therapists are offering their practice online, but creating an effective home office comes with its own set of unique challenges.

As more professionals find themselves moving toward teletherapy, here are five common mistakes to avoid during online therapy and simple solutions for them:

1. Ensure Your Connection Is Secure and HIPAA-Compliant

Establishing a secure internet connection between counselor and patient is one of the most basic ways to ensure privacy online. This step helps to prevent data breaches and other potential leaks or attacks. Since these sessions need to be HIPAA-compliant, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services website provides a list of telehealth vendors who offer HIPAA-compliant products.

Another option for securing all of your messaging and videoconferencing is by bundling it with billing and other administrative features through an all-in-one electronic health record system. In a 2020 blog post from the American Psychological Association (APA), Monica Lyn Thompson, PsyD, discussed moving her practice entirely online and said all-in-one product was more convenient than “piecemealing things together.”

2. Invest in Your Space

Just like you would invest in appropriate lighting, furniture and other elements of an office building, decorating your home office is essential. Adding a ring light or high-quality webcam to a computer set-up wouldn’t be necessary in person but can improve the patient experience online. A thoughtfully constructed space also helps to maintain professional boundaries. This list of suggestions from Thera-Link is a helpful resource for creating a home office space conducive to your work.

3. Familiarize Yourself With Technology

Teletherapy continues to be a learning experience. One of the best ways counselors can help clients is by developing a strong literacy of the technology involved. The better counselors understand their software, the faster they can resolve any issues, which saves valuable time during a session. Perhaps more importantly, this expertise allows them to assist any clients who are learning the technology.

4. Have a Backup Plan

A stable internet connection is a necessary part of online therapy. Therefore, counselors should ensure that both they and their patients have the necessary bandwidth to uphold a videoconference. If they lose internet connection, however, it’s important to have a fallback plan with patients, such as switching to a phone call. Additionally, having a plan — like a code word or cover story — for unwanted interruptions is also critical, especially if the patient has teletherapy in a sensitive home situation.

5. Screen for Suitable Candidates

Just as a counselor would screen potential patients for appropriateness in-office, they should do the same for potential telehealth patients. Online therapy is not a good fit for all patients, whether due to physical, mental or emotional issues. Fitting group therapy into an online session can also be a challenge, depending on the participants’ location, level of cooperation and many other factors.

In this modern world, mental health counselors must adjust to modern expectations for increased online therapy and services.

Learn more about the University of Wisconsin-Superior’s Master of Science in Education — Counseling Marriage and Family Therapy Track online program.

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