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November 22, 2022

7 Tips for Safe & Successful Online Counseling.

Is online therapy safe and reliable? How to find the most reliable online therapist? These are the most common questions asked about online treatment. Mental health services are unique from other forms of telemedicine in the way that you share deep and vulnerable things about yourself and your circumstances. You are entitled to know how your information is stored and what platform your provider uses to conduct the telehealth services.
 

With the rise of online platforms offering telehealth services, we are confronted with good news and bad news at the same time. While some platforms work extra to maintain strict data privacy, others have taken advantage of clients’ information for marketing and other purposes. 

7 Things to Know About Online Therapy.

The good news is the rise of Online Therapy platforms has helped destigmatize seeking mental health-related services. More celebrities and famous figures have stepped forward to share their journey with mental illness (a). This has encouraged the public to treat mental illness as a form of physical illness. 

 

Another benefit of online therapy is the flexibility and convenience it offers to clients who cannot make it to in-person therapy. Especially, clients in rural (b) areas or parents who cannot leave their children at home can now attend their therapy sessions remotely. 

 

However, the downside is that ulterior motives continue to guide many of these Silicon Valley companies to gather “vulnerable” data on its user who assumes the same level of privacy (c) they get from their local mental health therapist and psychologist. A recent investigation on one of the largest online therapy platforms has revealed that this company was sharing clients’ vulnerable data with Facebook (d). 

 

In June 2022, several senators confronted the two major online platforms to provide further information about their privacy policies and practices (e) (f). For this reason, consumers of telehealth services should consider the following issues before seeking telemedicine services. 

  1. Platform Privacy: under the health protected act, healthcare providers must be transparent in their privacy policy on how they store and use your information. For example, your local therapist providing telehealth services only gathers information pertaining to your treatment progress (treatment plan, case notes, and progress notes). This information is stored in a HIPAA-compliant platform whose sole purpose is safeguarding sensitive data. Such information is NEVER used for marketing purposes or studying consumer behavior without the client’s permission.

  2. Provider Licensure: each provider is licensed under their state jurisdiction, and it is crucial to check whether the online therapist is licensed in your State. Like a driver’s license, each State has laws and rules for the providers to follow (g). This is critical, especially when you need resources and local help in times of crisis. Also, you want your provider to follow the ethical and legal guidelines of your State.

  3. Office Location: does your provider have a physical location? What happens if you decide to see your therapist in person? A physical location is also important in showing your therapist’s legitimacy and reliability. What happens if you can’t reach your therapist? Is there a place that you can go to see them?

  4. Directory: Can you find your therapist in any directories (h) (i) to verify their information? These websites usually verify the provider’s information before listing them on their site. Another way to verify your provider is by checking their National Provider Information (NPI) available on this website. It will show you the State your therapist is licensed to practice.

  5. Payment: when it comes to collecting payment, each provider has their method of fee collection. It is important to know how the fee is collected and who is collecting the payment. Larger telehealth platforms collect fees, but only a small portion of that fee is paid to the therapist delivering the services. Unfortunately, this arrangement does affect the quality of care you receive since your provider is encouraged to see more clients to make a reasonable salary. You may also inquire if you can use your health insurance, which can be cost-effective.

  6. Caseload: building on the last point, an overworked therapist is good for nobody. I remember the days of agency work when I was slammed with a large caseload of clients. Even in my A-game, I struggled to give my best to all my clients. Practices operating ethically have a better compensation package, allowing the therapist to see a reasonable caseload.

  7. What if..: what happens if your therapist leaves the platform? You have spent countless hours building rapport and trust, and what happens to the continuation of your treatment? Most large platforms do not allow therapists to take their clients with them. This, in turn, causes the client to experience disruption in their quality of care. What happens if you need to end therapy but want to resume it at some point? Can you find the same therapists on that platform? Often my clients wonder if they can come back to see me if any crisis arises. With so many online platforms, you may not find the same therapist upon returning. This is another reason to find a local therapist who is willing to see you for online therapy.  

Finding a Local Online Therapist.

There is a myth that your local therapists do not offer telehealth/online therapy. But in reality, almost all providers have the means to provide telemedicine services. I recommend seeking local services before jumping into a larger online platform with complex systems and practices that are hidden from its consumers.  

How to look for a therapist in your local area?

The easiest way to find your local therapist is using google search by typing, for example, “therapist in Wheaton, IL.” Skipping over the large platform ad can quickly reveal the local therapists in your area. On their website, you can easily see their location, the profile of their therapists, and the services they provide. Most practices also list online counseling on their website. Another tool you can use is searching for therapists in the local directories (j) (k). 

Finding the right therapist is hard, but it is worth the time searching

With the rise of immediate gratification through overnight delivery by Amazon and convenient ride shares by Uber and Lyft, we are tempted to create similar experiences in mental health services. However, we must consider the difference between buying a “product/service” and “working on ourselves.” Finding a good therapist is hard, but it is worth it. After all, you will spend hours exploring deep and vulnerable topics. You want to ensure that your therapist is reliable and credible and can create a safe environment for you. 

In conclusion, online therapy is a powerful tool and effective when treating various issues. However, consider the above concerns related to privacy and ethical issues when looking for a therapist. For severe cases of mental illness, online therapy may not be as effective as in-person therapy. When speaking to your local therapist, consider asking their opinion on this. 

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