It is now roughly 10 years since I saw my first client online. I remember it as clear as day. Sitting in my office waiting for my two o’clock appointment, sipping on the tea I had made in the 15 minutes between appointments, I received a panicked call regarding the state of the client’s car. It had broken down and she would need to reschedule. Anxious to calm the lady’s nerves, I jumped in and said “Ok, fire up Skype, we will do it like that”. At the end of the session, she commented “Do you know how comfortable that was? I can sit here with my dogs, my coffee and you know the trip to your office is a pain!” (I lived in a rather remote location at that time). I agreed that we would continue our little experiment and an idea was born. It took me a few more years to really do things seriously but it started the journey I am still enthusiastically on. www.drnjenner.com
It has come a long way from those early days. Skype is not a suitable method for delivering sessions and I have gone on to highly encrypted video and audio systems, online payment and high end fibre-optic internet speeds. All of which are needed to run the business properly. Unfortunately, there are still people who are offering therapy on such platforms as Facebook Messenger and Whatsapp and on chat programs. Something I am not prepared to even consider. In my opinion, online therapy needs to be as similar as it possibly can be to sitting in a therapist’s office and that means video with phone as a back up so you can see and hear who you are talking to, you can question and see what circumstances they are delivering a session in. That said, the trend in the industry is towards ever more mobile provision and apps and devices will be developed to do this. It is where I see the next level for my business.
The online experience is a very convenient but also brings challenges to the client and the therapist. From a therapist’s view (my own), it usually means long hours working early mornings and late nights as you “travel” across time zones. Hours spent in front of a computer screen (self-care is important) and then a realisation that even though sessions are finished, there are mails to answer. It also means to have an internet and social media presence. That means time taken to write articles, produce podcasts and videos, post on social media on top of all the normal admin associated with client notes. It also means being available between sessions to answer emails and enquiries from prospective and existing clients. Something that was not such a feature my office setting before. It is also to be an information source and I get many emails from people who just want to ask a question. This is all part of the online experience for the client and one that an online therapist must be willing to perform. This is why not every therapist is suitable to transfer their practice online.
For the client, it is the ultimate in convenience. Sessions can be taken from anywhere, the home office, on trips even in the car (yes…that happens). There is no traveling, parking, taking time off work and sessions can be done at any time. I get clients who say to me that they chose to work with me online for that very reason and more. They can see me before or after work. I can be reached by just sending a mail and they feel supported through crisis at the click of a mouse. Clients rarely cancel due to illness or the weather and always seem to be able to find the right place to have a session. How much better can it get than sitting at your kitchen table with coffee in hand?
In the last ten years, I have seen many changes in the way therapy is being delivered and those changes won’t stop. As with everything technological, it will advance quickly and I have seen that in my industry too. There are companies developing specialist software products and the general mood towards online therapy is easing when it comes to insurance companies and managed care systems. It has to because it is my firm opinion that we will reach a point somewhere in the future where there are more patients online than sitting in a therapist’s office and that time is not too far away.
So what can we expect the future to hold in this exciting industry? As stated earlier, the trend will be towards ever more mobile provision as is the trend in computing generally. Apps will be developed and software systems become more complicated. Even now, you could theoretically run a session on your smart watch! Provision will become smarter and leaner. What the industry needs is regulation. Not regulation that will stifle entrepreneurial spirit but regulation that will guarantee that those providing telehealth are qualified to do so. That, I suppose will be the next and most difficult stage. However, at the moment, there are many clients enjoying the ease and convenience of meeting their therapist online and that in the end is the most important thing.