Teletherapy offers many benefits to therapists, including cost-effectiveness and the ability to see patients in their home environments. But establishing a successful at-home teletherapy practice requires some consideration. Steps must be taken to ensure patient privacy, set boundaries between work and home, and communicate appropriate expectations for treatment. Here are 5 tips for working from home as a teletherapist.
Set up your space
Think about the steps you would take if you were setting up a physical office. Most likely, you would want to create a space that is welcoming, comfortable, private, and free from distractions. How do you incorporate these elements in your virtual office space? Consider the following:
Privacy– Ideally, your at-home office would be a separate room with natural sound barriers like walls and doors. What is most important, however, is that your sessions cannot be overheard. Headphones and sound machines can help ensure confidentiality, but make sure you also communicate expectations for privacy to any household members.
Background– Create a neutral, professional background free of personal items.
Consistency– Changing surroundings too frequently can be disorienting to patients. Try to conduct your teletherapy sessions from the same space whenever possible.
Lighting– Soft, diffuse light tends to be more soothing than direct, bright light. At the same time, you want to make sure your patients can see you and your facial expressions clearly.
Comfort– Of course you want your patients to be comfortable, but your comfort is also important! Invest in an ergonomic chair, blue light-filtering glasses, high-quality headphones, or whatever else you need to stay focused.
Eye contact– Research indicates that regular eye contact has a positive effect on attention and memory. Consider setting up your webcam at eye level to maximize these benefits!
Just as many therapists are relatively new to teletherapy, patients may not have a lot of experience when it comes to virtual therapy sessions. By taking some time to establish appropriate expectations, you can ensure that these sessions run smoothly. For example:
Communicate to your patients that they should connect from a space that is private, free from distractions, and well-lit. Patients will get the most from the treatment if they prioritize the time the same way they would for in-person sessions. This means staying seated in one place and not multitasking!
Come up with a backup plan in case the technology fails. One option is to conduct audio-only sessions via phone, but be advised that not all insurance companies will pay for audio-only sessions.
Create an informed consent that outlines the risks and benefits of teletherapy.
Get familiar with state and federal regulations
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many state and federal regulatory boards waived requirements for teletherapy. Insurance companies also modified their telehealth policies in order to increase members’ access to treatment. However, policies are constantly evolving, so it is important to stay abreast of the regulations for your state and area of practice. You can find the latest policy updates on hhs.gov. The APA also provides a handy, state-by-state reference here.
Schedule time for regular self-care breaks
As many benefits as teletherapy offers, there are also unique challenges. Teletherapy can be more isolating, and it can be harder to set boundaries between work and private life. Consequently, many teletherapists find that they need more time for self-care in order to avoid burnout. Make use of breaks between patients to stretch or move around. Come up with rituals that signal the start and end of the workday. Join a peer consultation group or schedule time with friends and family to make up for the lack of in-person interaction.
Invest in tech
There are few things more frustrating than malfunctioning technology. To set yourself up for optimal teletherapy success, invest in high-speed internet and noise-canceling headphones. Test your audio and video before you start each session. Experiment with different teletherapy platforms until you find the one that works best for you. Consider investing in other online mental health tools like RemotEMDR, Headspace, or Recovery Record to use with your clients.
Teletherapy has become an essential tool for therapists. But establishing a successful at-home teletherapy practice requires attention to details such as creating a welcoming and private space, maintaining boundaries between work and home life, and optimizing the use of technology. The tips above will help you to maximize the benefits of your at-home teletherapy practice.