Written in collaboration between Speakbox and CounsellingMatch, this guide is designed to support Counsellors in the process of moving to online therapy, in order to increase access to much needed mental health support. Although we do recommend our products, we also recommend alternatives in hopes of providing you with a balanced guide to implementing online therapy within your practice.
Launching a virtual practice is easier than you may think. In this guide, we’ll discuss topics ranging from preparation through to your first virtual session. We attempt to cover areas where we typically find a knowledge gap:
- Personal readiness
- Technological readiness
- Privacy and consent
- Your first session
Before diving into new technology, policies, and promotion, take a moment to reflect on your own excitement and apprehensions about going virtual. Jot down any questions you may have, if any remain unanswered – reach out, we’ll be happy to help.
You and your clients share this journey – take time to acknowledge the potential value this change may bring to them as well as any concerns they may have.
Setting Up Your Space
Your space is a critical component to successfully providing virtual care. Here is a list of actions worth considering:
- Remove background clutter to limit client distractions.
- Set up your camera to be at eye level. This can improve client connection.
- Ensure you’re well lit.
- Check for confidentiality; can your conversations be overheard?
- Is the space secured? Can anyone accidentally walk in on a session?
- Use a wired internet connection for optimal video performance.
- Have access to power and keep laptops fully charged.
FAQ: Is virtual care a viable form of treatment? Integrated properly, virtual care is proving to be just as effective as face-to-face services (Titov, N., et al, 2010; Robinson, E., et al, 2010; Andrews, G., et al, 2010; Christensen, H., et al, 2011) – MHCC e-mental health briefing document
Choose Your Communication Platform
Critical to offering virtual care is the technology that allows you and your clients to connect. When choosing a platform, consider its ease of use, whether it meets health privacy standards, and cost.
Three leading options are Microsoft Teams, Cisco, Doxy, and Zoom for Healthcare*. No matter your choice, take the time to adjust privacy and security settings appropriately. Most providers will include documentation teaching you how to use these essential features.
- Choose a communication platform
- Review set up and privacy materials
- Host a test call with a colleague
*Zoom has recently had a surge in popularity; however, it’s also been the subject of several recent privacy concerns. This doesn’t mean it’s not a viable choice, but if choosing Zoom, be extra diligent your security and privacy settings are set up properly. Zoom for Healthcare is a separate, paid service that is recommended by various Canadian health organizations and associations.
FAQ: Can I use Skype or Facetime? No, although convenient, these platforms lack the adequate encryption necessary for a confidential counselling call.
Record Keeping and Client Collaboration
Going virtual can make collaboration with your clients more challenging now that you are unable to share paper-based resources.
With email often not compliant with PIPEDA/PIPA standards, a collaborative health platform can offer security and improved quality of care. Practice management platforms such as Owl Practice or Jane.app can help with booking, scheduling, charting, and billing.
Speakbox can help you and your clients exchange health information and stay mutually informed during care. Speakbox is a secure, Canadian-built solution providing everything you need to start collaborating including shared notes, care plans, client goals, mood tracking, and feedback.
- Choose a practice management solution or determine how you’ll maintain your analogue case management.
- Decide how you’ll share and receive information from clients during care.
Promote Yourself Online
People looking for virtual care options are likely to begin their search online, so it’s vital that your digital presence is well curated and broad reaching. A positive digital first impression is critical, so your head-shot and listing copy should be designed to craft the impression that you hope to convey to the client as well as highlighting your virtual practice capabilities.
The anxiety of reaching out to a stranger for assistance can form a barrier to action for those seeking help, One innovative directory intent on reducing such barriers for people seeking help is CounsellingMatch, which currently serves communities in British Columbia. This directory uses a research-based personality measure to help people narrow their search for the right mental health professional based on likely compatibility.
With the inherent challenges present in virtual sessions, client-counsellor fit can be a key success factor and the promise of a more productive therapeutic relationship forming could reduce the anxiety of seeking out help in the first place. If you’ve already been promoting yourself online, make sure your social accounts and any other online profiles are also updated to show your capacity to provide care virtually.
- Set up or update your online profiles and directory listings to indicate that you offer online therapy.
Privacy and Resource Readiness
Although privacy can be a complex topic, if you are diligent about your technology choices, you are already well on your way to compliance.
For the purpose of this guide and rapid deployment of virtual care in your practice, we recommend you review the following resources.
Understanding clinical responsibility, PIPEDA and PIPA.
Remote Counselling and Privacy Law. – BCACC
How to ensure informed consent and maintain ethical standards while offering virtual care:
- Review your privacy and consent policies.
- Determine how you’ll stay up to date on policy and standard changes.
- Plan how you will communicate with your client about privacy and consent.
Preparing for Your First Session
It’s time to put all the pieces together. Although your approach remains the same, consider preparing for your first call with the same diligence as your first client. As we encouraged in the beginning, you and your clients are on this innovative journey together.
- Practice using this new technology with a colleague before your first session.
- Familiarize yourself with basic troubleshooting such as connection, audio, and video difficulties.
- Host your first session, be thoughtful about who would be your ideal first virtual client.
- Give space for feedback, and be open to adjust over time.
- Expand virtual care to additional clients.
- Stay informed by adopting e-mental health into your professional development plan.
By adding virtual capacity to your therapeutic offering, you’re improving people’s ability to access life-saving mental health care, thank you. Even once the pandemic is long since past, the global transition to online and virtual service offerings will no doubt leave a lasting legacy. Taking these steps now will help to prepare you for a future of multi-channel therapeutic access that is here to stay.
We Are Here to Help
If you have questions or suggestions for this guide, tell us about it, and we’ll continue to update this information with support from the community. Get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
MHCC – E-Mental Health Implementation Toolkit
The COVID19 pandemic and the sweeping changes to daily life enacted to counteract it, are undoubtedly significant stressors on people’s mental health. Now more than ever, people need access to trained mental health professionals. By establishing a virtual care practice, you can answer this call and ensure people can continue to live a life they love.