Online therapy or teletherapy has become increasingly more relevant thanks in part to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the CDC, between August 2020 and February 2021, the percentage of adults exhibiting recent anxiety or depressive disorder symptoms increased from 36.4% to 41.5%. At the same time, the percentage of people reporting unmet mental health care needs jumped from 9.2% to 11.7%. 

Knowing how to start an online therapy business and become an online therapist can help many people. Video conferencing enables you to see patients experiencing travel restrictions, so you’ll be able to provide aid to people who cannot access in-person mental health providers. And while online therapy isn’t for everyone, both people with serious mental health conditions and members of the general population are willing to engage in teletherapy. 

But how should you set up a website for your online therapy practice — and how will you be able to connect with patients online? In this article, you’ll learn about the type of online platforms to use when starting an online therapy business, the options for promoting your online practice, and how you can create a safe virtual space where people feel comfortable sharing their mental health concerns.

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Choosing your health insurance portability and accountability act compliant platform

When you become an online therapist, you’ll need to select an online platform that complies with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Clients will be sharing private patient information with you, including medical records, credit card numbers, and social security numbers, so your telehealth platform needs safeguards to keep this information safe. 

Online therapy allows therapists to provide mental health services to more people in need. Photo by LinkedIn Sales Solutions on Unsplash

‌This protection needs to extend to when you’re communicating with clients via video, emails, or online chats. HIPAA compliant platforms offer these safeguards, so the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services requires therapists and mental health professionals to use these platforms. 

HIPAA compliant telehealth platforms include:

Make sure to follow all required regulations for your online therapy practice. This may include receiving a telehealth informed consent form and signing a HIPAA-compliant business associate agreement with your telehealth platform. Letting your patients know their personal information is safeguarded by encryption software and that their online visits are done on a secure network goes a long way in building trust.

Become an online therapist by promoting yourself online 

These days, every successful business needs to develop a digital footprint, whether they work in-person or virtually. This means investing in the tools to build a user-friendly website that communicates the brand image you want to promote with your practice. 

In addition to providing informative content about your online therapy visits and specializations, you’ll want to make your website mobile-responsive since many people research services using their smart devices. Use Constant Contact’s Website Builder to help ensure you present a friendly, professional image. 

This also means developing an active and engaging presence on the social media channels your clients frequent. Remember: clients aren’t going to find you simply by looking for your website. More often than not, they’ll discover you on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram

More and more people are looking online for mental health providers, making social media marketing essential in promoting your services. Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

And rather than wait for someone to refer you to a potential patient, why not take the initiative and introduce yourself as a trustworthy and valuable resource for people interested in mental health? You can offer mental health tips through blog posts or newsletters and provide helpful videos on YouTube that can reach thousands of people. 

Photos and videos are a particularly effective way of building an online presence. While they allow you to provide aid and offer information, they also convey who you are and help potential patients see you as someone they feel comfortable talking to. This is something you’ll want to focus on and develop as you start building your online practice.  

Creating a safe space for online therapy clients 

Knowing how to start an online therapy business also means knowing how to conduct effective therapy sessions virtually — which requires you to make some changes to your usual practice. Naturally, you’ll want to present yourself professionally and not appear on the screen in your pajamas, but you also need to learn how your voice and image come across through a computer screen.

Shadows and harsh lighting can obscure your face and make you seem less inviting. Your microphone might pick up background noise, distracting patients and making it hard for them to hear your voice. And digital glitches or internet issues can cause visual or audio delays — or accidentally sever your connection with your patient completely. 

Presenting yourself in a professional, inviting manner is important for providing effective online therapy sessions. Photo by Visuals on Unsplash

For these reasons, it’s important to invest in some tools that can alleviate or eliminate common teletherapy issues when you become an online therapist. Purchase headphones that make it easier for you to hear your patients and provide them with more privacy. Use a white noise machine to filter out background noise that interferes with your sessions. And use a properly tested microphone so your patient can hear your voice. 

You can even use ring lights to make your face appear more clearly and clamps to hold your tablet or phone, so you maintain good eye contact. And be sure to have a backup hotspot or the ability to plug directly into your router in case you lose your Wi-Fi and need to maintain your internet connection.

All of this preparation helps make your online therapy visits go more smoothly and establish rapport with your patients. As they see you’re committed to making their teletherapy visits comfortable and convenient, they’ll be willing to open up to you more, which leads to more productive sessions. 

Assessing your patients

Getting a good sense of your patients’ issues and how well they’re responding to teletherapy comes with its own set of challenges. 

Some people find online therapy very effective and appreciate the convenience and flexibility of voicing their concerns from any location. Others, however, still aren’t comfortable with technology and have issues, including cognitive or hearing problems, that interfere with an effective online session. 

For this reason, it’s good to offer initial video conferencing consultations to see how your parents respond to online therapy and build some initial rapport to help determine if your online therapy business is a good fit. 

Remember, just because online therapy offers a new way to promote mental health doesn’t mean it can or should replace in-person therapy. Some people still respond best to traditional methods, so keep that in mind when screening your patients. 

Building a community and resources for your online therapy business 

When you become an online therapist, there’s a tendency to see this kind of teletherapy as isolating, not just for your patients but also for you. Where before you spoke to your patients in the same room, now you might be conversing with someone who’s physically miles away from you, creating a feeling of detachment.

That’s why it’s so important to not only know how to start an online therapy business but also build, find, and join a network of telehealth professionals. Remember, while moving away from the usual brick-and-mortar therapy business might be advantageous financially and logistically, it doesn’t mean you need to stop interacting with your peers and support group.

The Internet now offers a way for you to find multiple psychologists and therapists with online practices for you to network with. APA and APA Services, Inc. offer guides on starting an online therapy business in this new age of digital workspaces. You can also find effective support groups on Facebook and other social media. Take advantage of these tools and you’ll enjoy a more effective transition into the life of an online therapist.