This article, which I wrote to help consumers choose a therapist, originally appeared in US News and World Report. This article is also helpful for therapists seeking to attract online clients since it would help them understand what sorts of factors clients might be considering in choosing a therapist. You may also check out the article here and my author page here.
Online therapy offers numerous benefits to clients. It's a convenient way to see a therapist without having to waste a moment of precious time on even a short commute. Online therapy also gives clients the ability to connect with therapists who may be too far geographically, even if the client were willing to commute. Snowstorm? No problem! Have the sniffles? Stay in your pajamas and do your therapy session from home! Online therapy also allows clients to have a greater choice in therapists as well as schedules, making therapy more convenient than ever. And it allows many clients to be more vulnerable and share things they might find more difficult if they were actually sitting in a doctor's office. My office has done online therapy since 2012, and we have a large number of online therapy clients in New York, Maryland and Virginia, as well as a large number of online coaching clients around the world. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions when it comes to choosing an online therapist:
Q: How does being online affect the quality of therapy? Is it compromised?
A: Being online definitely has some effects on therapy, but some of them are actually positive. In my experience doing online therapy, I value the opportunity to see the clients in their own natural environment. When clients come into my office, they sometimes put on their "Sunday manners," and I don't get to see the "real self" emerge until they've had a few sessions to warm up. Online therapy gives me a direct window into their home or office life, and a lot of times they're acting more naturally than they would in my office. I don't get to see as much body language as I do in traditional office visits, but I do enjoy being able to see clients in their own space.
Q: Will insurance cover online therapy?
A: A growing number of states require insurances to cover online therapy, which is great news for clients. I have expanded my licensure from New York to include Maryland and Virginia, and I'm targeting more states as well. In fact, I guarantee to clients that I will get them reimbursed for their online therapy sessions or I will waive any fees not covered due to being online. Find out if the therapist you're considering will help you with insurance claims – you don't want dealing with insurance companies to become a source of stress, especially since the goal of therapy is to decrease stress and make life easier, not more complicated.
Q: What credentials should I look for in an online therapist?
A: Credentials and professionalism are very important in any therapy experience, and that's especially true for online therapy. I'm shocked at the lack of credentials of many people who are offering "therapy" online. Don't judge a therapist by how many letters they post after their name – many of those letters signify certifications that are very easy to obtain, or they may signify credentials that are not relevant to your situation.
Unfortunately, it's often the least scrupulous individuals who are most likely to add a confusing string of letters after their name that could signify nothing more than having taken a weekend certification workshop. Online therapy has made it easier than ever for unscrupulous people to operate without any physical location or real-world accountability. A straightforward rule of thumb is to check if the person's title is regulated by the state licensing board. Just ask him or her: "Is your license regulated in your state? I hope you understand why I am asking; I have heard it's best to always ask this. Would you mind giving me your license number and emailing me a link to where I can verify it please?" If the person bristles or gets defensive, I'd consider that a negative – a good provider with a high level of professionalism will welcome those types of questions as a sign that you're practicing good self-care by making sure you're seeing a qualified professional.
Q: Any other tips for choosing an online therapist?
A: Listen to your gut. If someone seems "fly by night," trust your instinct. Do they appear to be comfortable and professional as a therapist, and specifically with online therapy? Do they offer sessions on a secure video platform? My office advertises with the term "Skype therapy" just because it's an easy phrase that the general public can immediately understand, but we actually do the therapy sessions on a secure online video portal that meets HIPAA standards. When the therapist "meets" you online, are they clearly in a quiet, private and professional location, or do they appear to be in their living room? Do you hear voices of other people in the background? Is the person dressed professionally? Have they invested time to make sure the camera shows their face clearly and directly, or do they appear to be "winging it"? These markers signify that the person is aware that for therapy to be successful for you, they must create a "space" and presentation of themselves that is designed to help you relax and trust that you're in the hands of a caring, qualified professional.
If you have more questions about choosing an online therapist, please reach out to me on social media or contact my office directly.