One of the most frequent questions I get when talking to folx about online mental health treatment is: “how does that work, exactly?” Usually this is accompanied by a baffled look. So, it seemed this would be an appropriate first blog post.
Online mental health treatment really is simple. There is very little difference between an online session and Face-timing a friend. Sure, because it’s treatment, there are quite a few more steps and expectations, but they are very straightforward and nothing to be alarmed by.
The Initial Logistics: There are a couple of ways to get started with online treatment. Sometimes a referral comes in over the phone and then I do a lot of the initial work for you. I’ll need your name, email address and phone number just to get things rolling. It also helps to get your address, date of birth and some other basic information ahead of time. More often than not this initial referral also serves as a basic consultation so that we can begin to understand what you are seeking help with and whether we are a good fit for working together.
Once I have this information, we discuss scheduling, and after we get off the phone, I begin inputting your demographics into the EHR (electronic health record) platform. I use Simple Practice because it has the video capability and necessary health record features built in, and is HIPAA-compliant. It is also super easy to use. Simple practice will send you an email with a link and a unique PIN. This link takes you to the client portal where you set up your account in a few easy steps. You will receive new client paperwork to review and sign – this generally includes the consent for treatment, payment agreement, etc. You can use secure messaging within the platform and this is also where our sessions will take place. About 24 hours before your scheduled appointment, you receive an email from Simple Practice supplying the unique link. When it’s time to start, you click the link and voila!
Now if you are a new client that is scheduling through my website, the process is a little bit different, but still quite easy. On my website (www.carlsoncounselingandwellness.com), the “Online Booking” tab takes you directly to the Simple Practice page where you can select “I’m a New Client.”
This will take you to the scheduling portal where you select the preferred date for that initial appointment. The system then prompts you for the same information I referenced above and you reserve your appointment with a credit card. Once I’m alerted of a new client, I take care of a couple things on my end, and then you will receive the same emails I talked about above. Pretty simple, right?
The Actual Sessions: I’m not kidding when I say that it’s a lot like FaceTime or Skype. This is why it is important for you to ensure that you have a good internet connection to support the video feed, and that you have the privacy necessary for a meaningful session. On my end I ensure your confidentialityby using a secure room with a noise-masking machine, and sometimes headphones to minimize any distractions. Good lighting is always helpful since being able to see each other is a big part of therapy. Also, think about comfortable seating since most sessions last between 30-60 minutes. Other than these basics, online therapy can happen on any computer, tablet, or cellphone.
Pros and Cons: As with everything, there are pluses and minuses to online treatment. I do think there are more pros than cons, but that assessment is ultimately up to you.
The Pros: On the positive side of things, online therapy offers the ultimate when it comes to convenience – there’s no commute, no parking, no waiting room to deal with. I’m never offended when clients appear in their jammies, and you can even do a session while on vacation.
Online treatment gives you the option of uninterrupted treatment without the restrictions of a 9-5, M-F brick-and-mortar office. Another positive is that it is greener and leaves less of a footprint. I literally keep zero paper files because everything is electronic. Security is ensured through Simple Practice and you no longer have to worry about unauthorized access to your private information. Similarly, online practice allows the therapist to minimize overhead costs which then positively impact the cost of services to the client (it’s a win-win). It also increases mental health treatment access to those who may be in more remote areas or lack reliable transportation. Finally, even though online treatment remains still rather new, it is considered effective and comparable to face-to-face in-person treatments. It is used by a growing number of organizations, including the VA, to provide necessary and effective services to clients.
The Cons: The most obvious downside to online therapy and treatment is the potential for internet outages and technology glitches.
The same way that inclement weather may shut down a clinic, it can also sometimes impact online connectivity. Usually these blips will be short-lived, but think about potential backup options for connecting should an outage occur. Another downside is that online sessions can sometimes limit the clinician’s ability to observe body language and facial expressions. This means that we may have to spend more time verbalizing certain things that otherwise might have gone unspoken in an office. So far, I haven’t had any clients complain about this and as we get to know one another online, that familiarity really helps the process.
If you have questions or comments about online therapy, please feel free to email me directly or leave a message in the comments section. I hope this information was helpful!