One option that many people don’t consider when they are first establishing or growing a private practice is online counseling or coaching. Most of us have more questions than answers when it comes to working online. In addition, the benefits of offering this option to your clients aren’t always obvious.
Since we are all looking for ways to get going or get bigger in private practice, I thought I’d blog about how online coaching or counseling can kick start your practice. Part 1 of this post will address the most common questions I get on this topic. Part 2 will focus on how you can use online coaching or counseling to grow your practice.
Part 1… Here are a few of the questions (about online work) that I am often asked by my coaching students:
1. What types of online services can I provide?
Wow. Don’t get me started. How about: general counseling, life coaching, niche related support (i.e. daily check-in for folks with ADD, desensitization for folks with agoraphobia or panic attacks, support for those who cannot leave their homes), supervision, trainings, workshops, etc.
2. What about confidentiality?
In any work we do, confidentiality is limited by many things. If you are in an office, it is limited by things like soundproofing, a sign-in sheet at the front desk, or a therapist who announces your name when getting you from the waiting room. Our job is to protect a client’s confidentiality to the best of our ability, and to make them aware of the limitations of confidentiality.
I feel it is important to have intake paperwork unique to your online work. In it, be sure to let the client know that confidentiality is limited to the extent of security which exists online. You cannot guarantee the security that exists on SKYPE or your (or their) email provider. You cannot guarantee the security of the internet in general.
If someone is looking for the convenience of online counseling or coaching, they must understand that there are risks involved. Most people who seek these services do. But, you still must have them acknowledge that understanding by including it in your contract with them.
3. I am licensed in my state — can i provide online counseling to someone in another state?
Well, you should certainly check with your specific state regulations however, a good rule of thumb is to remember that you are only licensed to practice “counseling: in the state(s) in which you hold a license. Let’s say you are licensed in NY and you have a client who lives in Albany. Because she is a NY resident, you can do online “counseling” with her (even if she is spending the winter in Florida).
Now, let’s say that you get a call from someone who is a resident of Ohio, who is looking for online “counseling”. She will be in Ohio when you have your phone or SKYPE sessions. This is a horse of a different color. You are now doing “counseling” with a resident of another state. If she comes to your office in NY, it is not a problem. If, however, you are online with her, you are now providing “counseling” to an Ohio resident, outside of NY and therefore you are practicing out of your jurisdiction.
In this case, you can screen that Ohio client to see if “coaching” would be appropriate to fit her needs. Perhaps she is struggling with career issues and wants to work on that. If you deem her needs appropriate for “coaching”, you can offer that to her. If, however, she has PtSD and is in crisis, “coaching” probably is not appropriate and a referral is indicated.
Be sure to have a different set of intake paperwork for your “coaching” practice; be sure it clearly describes the differences between “counseling” and “coaching” and the limitations of “coaching. Make this a part of the contract so the client acknowledges and understanding of this with her signature.
4. What is the difference between online “counseling” and “coaching?
I think this information sheet from ACA does a good job of describing the differences between the two: Coaching vs. Counseling – ACA
Hopefully the answers to these questions have triggered some excitement and many more questions for you to research before you broaden your services to include online work. In Part 2 of this post, we’ll look at how adding online counseling or coaching can benefit you and your clients.