I receive emails every week from colleagues who are interested in opening their own psychological practice online, working as therapists online or would like to know how I did it, if it can actually work, and what you have to consider to be successful as an online psychologist or psychotherapist.
Previously, online therapy was a largely unknown concept in many areas of the world. However, with people enduring restrictions on their personal and professional lives due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, online therapy has now become more mainstream than ever before. Clients and practitioners who may have been sceptical about delivering or receiving therapy through “virtual” means were forced into giving it a shot. The vast majority of those sceptics were pleasantly surprised.
Many people have written about their own experiences with online therapy during the pandemic. Two interesting articles that I’ve stumbled across are:
“My pandemic epiphany: how I fell in love with online therapy”, which is written by André Wheeler – a client new to the world of online therapy and who originally cringed at the idea of connecting through a camera – and “The Surprising Intimacy of Online Therapy Sessions During the Pandemic”, which is written by Lori Gottlieb – a therapist new to online sessions and who was previously quite sceptical about online therapy.
It’s worth noting that even though many therapists have been working online recently due to the restrictions imposed on in-person contact by the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s quite a different thing to open up your fully online private practice, especially if you wish to be fully self-employed and want to work with self-pay clients only.
Despite online therapy moving into the limelight somewhat, it can be difficult to obtain information about practicing as an online therapist or psychologist. On top of figuring out legal and tech issues, we also need to figure out how to build a business and make sure our clients find us out there on the world wide web.
Freedom – Travel – (Working?)
The dreams of travel, independence, and freedom – which a life as a digital nomad or location independent therapist promises – are tempting. At the same time, many people imagine working online to be so incredibly easy that they would probably be disappointed quite quickly if they actually tried it.
Certainly, it’s easier to open a practice online than it is to open one offline. You need very little equipment – a laptop, headphones and good wifi are really all you need and you could basically start right away.
What most people don’t consider, or what they tend to underestimate, is how long it takes to get the word out about such an online practice, how long it takes to be found on the Internet or how long it takes to plan and create a website and social media presence.
What many people underestimate is that, besides the actual work with clients, many other activities are necessary to run a successful psychological practice online.
So what do you need to build and run a successful psychological practice online?
I think this is self-explanatory. If you want to run an online practice, you should also be able to be found online. Even though it can be useful to appear on various social media platforms, in the end nothing beats a personal website. It doesn’t have to be very elaborate, but it should definitely contain the most important information that could interest clients (and, of course, be up to date regarding data protection etc. – long live the GPDR ;)).
When getting started, an alternative to having your own website could be to be listed on online directories, such as the one we have for our Location Independent Therapists community members. Those can be very helpful for clients who are seeking a therapist as there is usually some type of “quality control” (credentials, training etc.). I’ve written more about what else you should be paying attention to as a client when looking for a therapist online here.
But, most directories won’t lead to a big influx of clients and won’t let you showcase what you do and who you are in the same way as your own website will. So, in the long run, having your own website really is a must, especially for those who want to do this long-term.
Social Media Presence
Depending on which target group you are addressing, it can be useful to be active on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. But in my opinion, the same idea applies here as well: it’s better to be active on fewer channels, but with more quality content, rather than trying to be everywhere all at once. I also don’t think that Facebook & Co. are really that incredibly important for finding clients. Who is looking for a therapist on Facebook? But it can help to make your own “brand” better known and provides another piece of content and credibility. My clients often end up on my website first and then look at the various other channels, just to get a better impression of me and my work. Aside from using it to promote a business, I personally find Facebook, for example, incredibly enriching, especially for networking with colleagues (more on this later).
It’s through blogging (using appropriate keywords and SEO) that I have managed over the years to develop a very good Google ranking (especially in German, my main counselling language) and it’s helped me get over 80% of my clients through organic search. On top of being helpful for SEO, having a blog is really helpful for potential clients to learn more about us, our work and approach and to find out whether we are a good fit. But again, blogging takes effort and time and it takes even more time for Google to notice us.
Networking with Colleagues
I should probably have put this point first, because without my colleagues, I’d certainly not be where I am today. Online work and the digital nomad life, especially, has enabled me to network with colleagues from all over the world. In many countries, psychological online counselling is already much more established than in Germany (where I’m licensed), so it’s been particularly worthwhile to network with international colleagues and it’s helped me think outside the box. Actually, networking with colleagues online has been such a game changer for me and my business, that, in 2020, myself and my colleague, Melissa Parks, co-founded the Location Independent Therapists (LIT) community as a dedicated space away from social media for like minded professionals to come together to learn from and support each other. From virtual co-working sessions to business meetups, peer supervision calls, a book club and more, we meet, talk and help each other grow our businesses and support each other through the ups and downs of entrepreneur life.
Time and Patience
The most important thing of all: you need time and patience. Even if it’s easy at first glance to open an online practice, it takes at least 2-3 years for most people to get things up and running successfully. You might be able to get things going a bit faster by getting help and hiring someone to do your website for example, but it still won’t be an overnight success, no matter how much help you get. And, honestly, it’s a good thing that it won’t happen overnight. I find slower, natural growth much better and healthier than fast overnight success. It gives you time to let your concept mature, to take care of the content as well as the marketing and to grow together with your practice, step by step. But of course this contradicts the “10 new clients in 2 weeks” advice, or whatever the next person might promise you online.
Finally, here are a few more links that may be helpful when planning and starting a psychological practice online
- APA Guidelines Telepsychology
- The Effectiveness of Telemental Health: A 2013 Review
- Current Directions in Videoconferencing Tele-Mental Health Research
- Guided Internet-based vs. face-to-face cognitive behavior therapy for psychiatric and somatic disorders: a systematic review and meta-analysis
German articles on the topic (selection):
- Die Bundespsychotherapeutenkammer zum Thema Internet in der Psychotherapie
- Artikel von Frank et al. (2017) aus dem Psychotherapeut zum Thema Videokonferenzbasierte psychotherapeutische Anschlussbehandlung
- Artikel von Linden (2017) aus dem Psychotherapeut zu E-Mental-Health und internetbasierte Psychotherapie
- Selling the Couch
- The Ask Juliet & Clinton Show
- Private Practice Startup
- The Practice of the Practice
- The Therapist Experience
- Therapist ClubHouse
- Online Counseling
- Online private practice
Good keywords for online searches for further resources include Telemental Health, Telepsychology, Online Counselling.
This post was originally published in German. It has been updated here to be more relevant to an international audience and to reflect recent changes in the world as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Are you also thinking about becoming self-employed with a psychological practice online? Then I have a few more offers for you here! Do you have a website and are working online already? Then you are welcome to link to it in the comments below. I am always very happy when I meet new colleagues who are already working online themselves!
Tips for opening a psychological practice online