Teletherapy is having its moment. Although the circumstances driving this trend are regrettable, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of teletherapy counseling services in a way previously unimagined.
But with this rapid growth has come challenges. Many counselors had to transform their in-person practice into a teletherapy practice almost overnight. In this post, we share our best tips and tricks for providing safe, effective, and convenient teletherapy counseling services.
Setting Up Your Teletherapy Counseling Space
Whether you’re seeing teletherapy clients from home or the office, setting up a conducive environment where you will see your counseling clients is essential. Here are a few ways you can transform a space to make it look more professional.
Have a Professional Background
This tip is especially crucial if you’re working from home. Displaying a view of a full kitchen counter or a background cluttered with various home projects may not contribute to client confidence. Pick a background that projects a sense of professionalism. Consider a bookcase or a wall with some art on it. Your background doesn’t have to be fancy, but it shouldn’t be distracting.
Make it Comfortable for Yourself
If many of your clients have opted to go remote, you may be spending quite a bit of time in the room with your telehealth setup. Invest in making it a comfortable, inviting space for you. If your chair makes your back hurt, swap it out for a better one. Small touches like a tea or coffee station stocked with your favorite brews can help you refresh in between sessions.
Turn Off Email and Phone Notifications
Our phones and a constellation of other devices emit a torrent of beeps, vibrations, chirps, and on-screen reminders. Before a session, turn off any notifications you have on your phone or email.
Become Familiar with the Tech
Before you begin seeing counseling clients via telehealth, you’ll want to become familiar with how your software operates. How long this takes will largely depend on how user-friendly your telehealth platform is and your own comfort level with technology. Having technical issues when you’re in a session is something you want to avoid, if possible.
Use Fast and Reliable High-Speed Internet
Speaking of technical issues, having reliable internet is vital. Your connection is what’s holding the session together. If your current internet provider is slow or unreliable, consider switching to a more stable service.
Use a High-Quality Headset
A headset creates a more intimate, personal connection with the client. It also offers a feeling of privacy that can put you and the client more at ease, especially as you both get used to this new way of connecting
Use a Teletherapy Platform with High-Quality Video and a Full-Screen Option
When counseling clients remotely, a ten or twelve-inch screen is the only visual real estate you have to work with. If the video is grainy, it will be challenging to focus on the client. Selecting a telehealth provider with high-quality video that can expand to full screen is important.
Optimizing the Session for Better Interpersonal Connection
With in-person counseling, you have far more opportunities to give and receive sensory input from the client. Body language and other non-verbal signals provide valuable clues for both parties. In a telehealth session, you miss out on some of these important cues. Here are a few ways to compensate.
Explain Your Movements
If you need to get up, leave your seat, or turn around, let the client know what you’re about to do. Narrating your movements can help them make sense of what’s happening on screen.
Set Up Your Webcam to Maximize Eye Contact
Your eyes convey a lot of information without ever saying a word. Making it easy for your clients to maintain eye contact can put both of you more at ease. Position your webcam for maximum effect.
The dress code when seeing counseling clients remotely is no different than in-person. Making sure your attire portrays your sense of professionalism will put clients at ease.
Expect Some Awkwardness at First
There’s no denying that telehealth has a very different feel than face-to-face counseling, at least at the beginning. Being a telehealth pro is something you grow into. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable and admit things feel a little awkward. Know that your clients are experiencing many of those same feelings too.
Ask for Feedback
Leverage your client’s perceptions of the teletherapy counseling experience as a way to improve. Ask them what’s working well and where things could be better. Their perspective is something you want to tap into.
Read Telehealth Regulations: State, Federal, and Private Payer to learn what you should consider from a legal standpoint when providing telehealth.
Maintaining Safety And Compliance
Working with clients remotely brings up important safety and ethical considerations that you’ll want to address before providing counseling services remotely. Here are some essential details to verify before you get started.
Create an Emergency Plan
It’s up to you to gather information from clients about their exact location and potential privacy or safety concerns at the start of each session. You should do this at the beginning of every session. Keep emergency contact information handy, including the emergency services phone numbers for each client’s location. Nightmare scenarios like a client becoming suicidal or being assaulted by an estranged partner during a session would require immediate action on your part. Knowing this information ahead of time could be critically important.
Establish a Backup Plan
Things don’t always work out as planned. An internet connectivity issue, a hardware problem, and someone walking into the room where the client is sitting during a session are examples of reasons to have a backup plan. Be sure to discuss your plan with the client at the beginning of each session to ensure you’re starting on the same page.
Use a HIPAA-Compliant Platform
Most teletherapy platforms offer end-to-end video encryption to keep your communications secure. Consumer video platforms like Skype aren’t HIPAA compliant and could potentially breach confidentiality.
Did you know that there are now technology tools available for providing EMDR via telehealth? Learn more in this guide.
Have a Secure, Private Internet Connection
Public wifi isn’t secure. So if you’re seeing clients while you’re on vacation or traveling to visit with family, your connection with a client could be compromised. Do what you need to do to ensure you have a private connection.
Know Who’s Not a Good Candidate For Telehealth
Some types of clients may not be best served via telehealth. Knowing who fits into that category requires a healthy dose of professional judgment. For example, high-risk clients will likely need more intensive, in-person care.
You Can Succeed With Teletherapy Counseling
Teletherapy has a lot going for it. It offers counselors an opportunity to connect with clients who aren’t able or willing to access face-to-face care. By laying the groundwork ahead of time, seeing counseling clients remotely can be done safely and professionally. Building a solid foundation now will allow you to grow a stable, thriving teletherapy counseling client base for years to come.
See how Thera-LINK, a HIPAA-compliant telehealth platform, can help you connect effectively with your clients.