Five years ago when Dr. Nicolas Jenner began exploring the idea of online therapy there were very few online counselors or telemental health services. Like most people in private practice then, his motivation was simply to save his clients a drive from one place to another. Instead, online counseling ended up saving him.
At about the time he was looking into online therapy, Dr. Jenner had a serious accident which left him immobile for months. The only way to maintain his practice during his long recovery was by seeing clients online. Through trial and error, Dr. Jenner fine-tuned his best practices to replace face-to-face consultations with video consultations, and he was soon on the road to building strong online therapy practice.
Eventually, due to family circumstances, he moved to a rural part of Germany where there were very few if any potential clients. Again, it was his online therapy practice which allowed him to make such a choice. Today, Dr. Jenner has a successful practice that is 100% online. He sees people from all over the world and has virtually no extra time for walk-in patients. He starts his daily round of online counseling sessions “in” Australia and then moves across the globe to Asia and the Middle East and finishes his day in Europe. For Dr. Jenner, online therapy is “very, very exciting.” It brings him in contact with a host different kinds of people and cultures, which adds an extra dimension to counseling, making it that much more satisfying.
Using VSee for Online Therapy
We asked Dr. Jenner how he chose VSee for his online therapy practice and his advice for taking one’s counseling practice online.
Why did you choose VSee to be you video platform provider?
VSee was in a long list of programs I tried. I tried Skype…Citrix, AnyMeeting, GoMeeting, even a service from the local phone company which was actually very good but it sent invitations in German to my American and Australian clients which confused them. VSee is the one that consistently provides me with everything I need to run my practice properly. It’s more likely to work in more locations, and that’s exactly what I need. I need a reliable vehicle to do video counseling, and VSee has given me that. I see them as a really reliable partner in my practice and for anyone starting an online therapy that’s essential.
Why not use Skype for online therapy?
Skype is a good product, but generally it just didn’t seem to come across as very credible that an online psychologist or psychiatrist would use Skype. It’s generally perceived as a thing to keep in touch with family and that sort of thing. When I see therapists marketing themselves online with Skype calls, I think “that’s not very professional” — so it was the professionalism. VSee has give me that credibility I can market myself that my provider is very secure and private.
How did you build an online clientele?
I decided to just advertise. I set up a Google Adwords account, and I placed an ad in there. I didn’t know if it would work — it did work. I had lots of serious inquiries, since then I’ve used more sophisticated marketing techniques. Plus I get a lot of word of mouth referrals, which is quite interesting when you work from a global basis. It’s amazing who knows somebody from the other side of the world, say from America to Asia. And my name has been passed across the continents quite often.
What was the most difficult part of getting your counseling practice online?
One of the biggest challenges with what I’m doing is the technical knowledge of the people you’re working with. They need a very very simple system that they click on, and they’re there. The knowledge that they have can have a big impact on the end result. When it doesn’t go smoothly, clients panic and they don’t seem to have the technical knowledge to change that at the moment or they don’t want to.
What other advice would you give someone interested in moving to an online therapy practice?
Finding someone you trust to run your video program. Nothing is more frustrating than you’re in the middle of a session, and the video quality breaks down or the connection breaks down or something happens that doesn’t work. It can mean the difference between someone improving in therapy or staying the same. So technology and the right provider is really the key to doing the stuff that I do.
When you look at an all round package,you want not just the product, but the service that goes on behind it. BingMin [VSee rep] has been a constant source of comfort to me. When things have gone wrong, I can contact him and he’s gotten back to me very very quickly.
You also have to distinguish between what’s wrong with the product and whether you have the right Internet connection.
What issue do you see arising as online therapy and telemental health become more popular?
Where there’s money to be made, the corporates will get on it, and they will employ armies of therapists, and the individual feeling between a therapist and the client will be lost to a certain extent. There will also be a number of people who shouldn’t be doing it who will. I’ve come across a number of those in the last year who, for example, are using Facebook chat as a way to diagnose serious mental health issues.
The ultimate thing that will happen is regulation. When regulation comes in, it will make global online therapy much more difficult to practice and not that it’s a bad thing, but it will change the face of the industry and make it more difficult for the people who engage in it.
Dr. Jenner is a licensed therapist in psychological counseling with a Degree in CBT techniques through the University of West of Scotland and a Diploma in Crisis and Trauma Counseling through the Caledonian University in Glasgow. He is also an Associate Member of the Institute of Counseling and a Professional Member of the American Counseling Society.