Tips for Behavioral Health Therapists Who Provide Online Teletherapy Sessions

COVID-19 changed everything we thought we knew about how to run our day to day lives, including the way we work. If you’re a behavioral health therapist who was suddenly thrust into the world of teletherapy, you may be wondering whether you’re as effective now as you were when all your sessions were held in person. Here are some tips and tricks for making sure you’re the best teletherapist you can be.

Why Teletherapy?

Although states have begun to open up following the COVID-19 lockdowns, many are seeing a spike in cases. Older adults and people with underlying conditions such as diabetes, lung disease, asthma, and mild obesity should continue to stay home, since they are at higher risk for complications from COVID. Even if you have no risk factors, some of your clients might.

Beyond COVID-19, though, there are plenty of reasons to make teletherapy a regular part of your practice. It allows you to work from home on days when going to an office isn’t feasible. It provides options for clients who don’t have transportation, reliable childcare, or live in remote areas that lack adequate behavioral health resources. You can hold sessions even when you’re traveling or need to schedule appointments outside of regular office hours. Teletherapy can become a viable secondary income stream, even if most of the care you are used to providing is traditional in-person therapy.

Setting Yourself Up for Success

As everyone who has logged into a remote meeting knows all too well, it’s important to set the stage. In order to make clients more comfortable with an online meeting, it’s important to consider how the session will be viewed. Choose a room where you can close the door, and make sure there’s nothing unusual or distracting in camera range. If possible, place your workspace in front of a blank wall in a neutral, soothing color. Also try to limit background noise as much as possible. Silence other phones around you, place noisy animals in another room and consider using a headset that can be muted, should unforeseen noises like a neighbor’s yard work or loud traffic cause a distraction.

Remember that visuals are even more important on camera than they are in person. Dress professionally in colors that contrast with the background, which will keep your client’s focus on you. Steer clear of bold patterns, which can be distracting and even lead to eye strain.

Pay attention to lighting. Avoid backlights, which can cause halos and other strange effects. Light your face from the front, taking care to diffuse the light across multiple sources. A single light could cause odd shadows to appear. Make sure the lighting isn’t too bright to avoid washing out your face.

Make sure you have everything you need before you begin. Check your technical setup, including your webcam and microphone. Make sure your internet connection is strong, and consider using a wired Ethernet connection, which is more stable than Wi-Fi. Conduct a practice run or two before your first client session to ensure you know how to work all of your teletherapy equipment. Also consider having a back up device ready. Sessions can be run from computers, tablets and cell phones, so keep an alternate device handy.

Take a few deep breaths and drink some water. Many people feel nervous in front of a camera, no matter how comfortable they are in face to face situations. Give yourself a few quiet moments before each session begins.

Setting Your Clients Up for Success

Your clients are probably also new to teletherapy, and they may be nervous about what to expect. Send a welcome email shortly after booking each client’s first session that includes informed consent documentation as well as a brief summary of what to expect. Consider creating a short “Welcome” checklist that lays out what the client will need (high-speed internet connection, webcam and microphone, a pen and paper to take notes) as well as important guidelines, such as appropriate dress and a private space to complete the session. Ask your clients to test their internet connection prior to the call, to make sure they have enough bandwidth to support a video session. This is especially important for group therapy sessions, when multiple people will be participating on the call.

Finally, make it easy for the client to ask questions, whether by phone, text, or email, well before the appointment date. Clients should always have a phone number to reach you if they are unable to connect to a session, or in case of any other emergency. Good communication is essential when conducting sessions remotely.

Legal and Ethical Considerations

Before you start offering teletherapy services, make sure you’re up to date on the latest state laws surrounding telehealth. Also check the American Psychological Association’s guidelines and best practices. Teletherapy has become wildly popular in the age of COVID-19, but you are expected to provide the same confidential, professional, evidence-based care as always, so it’s crucial to take the time to understand exactly what the requirements are.

Streamline Your Teletherapy Practice with a Behavioral Health EHR

A behavioral health EHR is designed to be accessed remotely, making it the perfect match for teletherapists working from home. It gathers the critical data required to ensure that you continue to provide evidence-based care, while simplifying the behind the scenes work such as billing and documentation. You can quickly collect informed consent paperwork from your clients, complete each session’s charting, and have the bills routed to the right payers, all within a single easy to use platform.

Even better, consider using a secure, HIPAA-compliant teletherapy platform that is fully integrated with the rest of a behavioral health EHR. You won’t need to worry about choosing a third party provider, wondering if it’s secure, or keeping multiple windows open on your computer or device. Choose a platform that is user-friendly and highly intuitive, allowing you to focus on providing the same high-quality outcomes-based care as you always have–regardless of your physical location.

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