Online counseling services have gotten a big boost in the past few months, as the coronavirus pandemic closed down much of the face-to-face world. In fact, the only way for most to do psychotherapy during this time was either via some sort of teleconferencing or online therapy service, or going old-school and using just the phone. (You shouldn’t be using email to do therapy, since it is insecure).
Unbeknownst to many, online counseling is now in its third decade. It got its start in the mid-1990s as a way of offering therapy services to people who would otherwise not get help. Its benefits largely outweigh its drawbacks, depending on the modality used.
While many prefer straight-up videoconferencing, some patients prefer a text-based back-and-forth, using a secure messaging system (some prefer chat, while others prefer the equivalent of email).
Consumer-focused technology like Skype, Facetime, or Zoom are generally not good options for online therapy, since they likely don’t meet HIPAA’s security and privacy standards. Instead, you need to look at dedicated technology solutions.
There are two ways you can go with online therapy –- DIY or join one of the large therapy services like Talkspace or BetterHelp.
TheraNest or Thera-Link?
If you’re looking to earn your regular rates, you’re best off sticking with a HIPAA-compliant platform for videoconferencing like Thera-Link.com or TheraNest.com. They both offer practice management software along with billing features and secure messaging and video-conferencing.
Costs for these stand-alone platforms range from $30-$60/month, depending on your needs and how many clients for whom you’ll use the platform. Most therapists can get by with just a $30-40/month service. You’ll still need to do your own record-keeping, billing, and marketing for your practice, but these platforms will help with the first two.
In fact, they both offer great note-taking functionality, practice management software, and all the things that help make a practice successful. TheraNest excels in this area, while Thera-Link is more focused on satisfying the telehealth crowd. Thera-Link offers a free, three-day trial to give the service a test run, while TheraNest offers a 21-day free trial.
BetterHelp or Talkspace?
If you’re willing to take on more patients with less billing and scheduling hassles (but also less pay), then one of the big online therapy services –- like BetterHelp or Talkspace — is worth considering.
They’re both easy to join and during these high-demand times, they’ve cut their onboarding times down to two to three weeks. You’ll need to be licensed to join, but they take care of all the billing and all of the marketing of their services.
That frees you up to spend time on their platforms doing what you do best — being a great therapist.
Both services keep their pay rates pretty secretive, for competitive reasons. But through discussions with a number of therapists, I believe the pay averages between $20-$35/hour for most therapists.
But if you consistently need to fill a few hours a week (or need to make some money on the side), they’re a great option to consider that allows you to define your own schedule. They’re overwhelmed by clients needing therapists right now.
The benefits of one of these online services to supplement your current work are numerous. There’s no insurance or billing with which to deal and very little paperwork. All of the marketing is taken care for you, so all you have to do is sit back and be prepared to receive a lot of new clients.
After examining both services and talking to therapists who work for both back in 2017, Psych Central decided to partner with BetterHelp. We did this because their model for working with clients is based upon engagements, not sessions.
That allows a more flexible approach to online therapy, one that rewards the therapist for deep, thoughtful engagements — and more frequent interactions — with their clients. Talkspace, on the other hand, is focused on sessions, and in my opinion, puts more restrictions on how therapists can work with their service.
Some therapists like the way that Talkspace helps new clients find a therapist for them, while BetterHelp takes a more algorithmic approach. While it may sound like a human touch is better, it’s been my experience that algorithms tend to work better in the long-term for clients.
Chances are, the first therapist a client chooses to work with isn’t going to be their final therapist. An algorithm can help that process more quickly, and as multiple other online services have proven, works extremely well.
For a new therapist, or any therapist that consistently has a few-hour slot open each week they can’t fill doing something else, the money paid by these services is better than getting nothing for your time. It’s also a great way to make a little money on the side. The spokesperson I talked to at BetterHelp mentioned that for LMFTs, the top 10% earn more than $92,000/year. So there is the potential to have really good earnings if you go all-in on one of these services.
If you do decide to go with BetterHelp, we have an affiliate link for you to use that helps fund our publishing efforts here: psych.ly/bhpro. They’re also paying bonuses for client retention, and for therapists joining from certain states that are in high demand right now, such as California.
Don’t Forget the Training
Whatever you do, it’s best to ensure you’re trained with how to do online therapy. It’s not as simple or straightforward as it may sound, and few graduate programs offer courses in how to do tele-mental health services.
If you decide to start using BetterHelp or Talkspace, they both provide their own on-boarding and training programs.
If you decide to supplement your practice with telehealth services like TheraNest or Thera-Link, I highly recommend my colleagues’ programs over at the Online Therapy Institute. In the U.S., they offer a 60-hour course for $599. Contact [email protected] and mention Psych Central for 10% off the course price.