Written in collaboration with CounsellingMatch. The purpose of this guide is to encourage more Counsellors to go virtual and increase access to much needed mental health care. Although we do recommend our products, we also recommend alternatives in hopes of providing you with a balanced and valuable guide to implement virtual care within your practice.
Launching a virtual practice is easier than you may think. In this guide, we’ll cover four key areas from ideation to your first virtual session, these topics include:
Privacy and consent
Your first session
Before diving into new technology, policies, and promotion, take a moment to reflect on your own excitement and apprehensions about going virtual. Jot down any questions you may have, if any remain unanswered - reach out, we’ll be happy to help.
You and your clients share this journey – take time to acknowledge the potential value this change may bring to them as well as any concerns they may have.
Your space is a critical component to successfully providing virtual care. Here is a list of actions worth considering:
Remove background clutter to limit client distractions.
Set up your camera to be at eye level. This can improve client connection.
Ensure you’re well lit.
Check for confidentiality; can your conversations be overheard?
Use a wired internet connection for optimal video performance.
Have access to power and keep laptops fully charged.
FAQ: Is virtual care a viable form of treatment? Integrated properly, virtual care is proving to be just as effective as face-to-face services (Titov, N., et al, 2010; Robinson, E., et al, 2010; Andrews, G., et al, 2010; Christensen, H., et al, 2011) - MHCC briefing document on e-mental health
Critical to offering virtual care is the technology that allows you and your clients to connect. When choosing a platform, consider its ease of use, whether it meets health privacy standards, and cost.
Three leading options are Cisco, Doxy, and Zoom. No matter your choice, take the time to adjust privacy and security settings appropriately. Most providers will include documentation teaching you how to use these essential features.
Choose a communication service
Review set up and privacy materials
Host a test call with a colleague
*Zoom has recently had a surge in popularity; however, it’s also been the subject of several recent privacy concerns. This doesn’t mean it’s not a viable choice, but if choosing Zoom, be extra diligent your security and privacy settings are set up properly.
FAQ: Can I use Skype or Facetime? No, although convenient, these platforms aren't recommended for a confidential counselling call.
Going virtual can make collaboration with your clients more difficult now that you’re unable to share paper-based resources.
With email often not compliant with PIPEDA/PIPA standards, a collaborative health platform can offer security and improved quality of care. Practice management platforms such as Owl Practice or Jane can help with booking, scheduling, charting, and billing.
Speakbox can help you and your clients exchange health information and stay mutually informed during care. Speakbox is a secure, Canadian-built solution providing everything you need to start collaborating including shared notes, care plans, client goals, mood tracking, and feedback.
Choose a practice management solution or determine how you’ll maintain your analogue case management.
Decide how you’ll share and receive information from clients during care.
People often start their search online when seeking counselling services. Therefore, your digital presence must be well-curated and broad-reaching. A positive digital first impression is critical. That means using a quality profile photo and using clear, concise language when describing your practice.
Psychology Today and social profiles such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are a few of the ways to promote yourself online. Make sure all of your profiles are updated to include your virtual care capacity.
The anxiety of reaching out to a stranger for assistance can form a barrier to action for those seeking help. One innovative directory intent on reducing such obstacles for people seeking help is CounsellingMatch. Currently available in British Columbia, CounsellingMatch uses a research-based personality measure to help people narrow their search for the right mental health professional based on likely compatibility.
Set up or update your online profiles and directory listings
Although privacy can be a complex topic, if you are diligent about your technology choices, you are already well on your way to compliance.
For the purpose of this guide and rapid deployment of virtual care in your practice, we recommend you review the following resources.
Understanding clinical responsibility, PIPEDA and PIPA. Remote Counselling and Privacy Law. - BCACC
How to ensure informed consent and maintain ethical standards while offering virtual care: Providing Psychological Services via Electronic Media - CPA
Review your privacy and consent policies.
Determine how you’ll stay up to date on policy and standard changes.
Plan how you will communicate with your client about privacy and consent.
It’s time to put all the pieces together. Although your approach remains the same, consider preparing for your first call with the same diligence as your first client. As we encouraged in the beginning, you and your clients are on this innovative journey together.
Practice using this new technology with a colleague before your first session.
Familiarize yourself with basic troubleshooting such as connection, audio, and video difficulties.
Host your first session, give thought to who would be your ideal first virtual client.
Give space for feedback, and be open to adjust over time.
Expand virtual care to additional clients.
Stay informed by adopting e-mental health into your professional development plan.
If you have questions or suggestions for this guide, tell us about it, and we’ll continue to update this information with support from the community.
By adding virtual capacity to your therapeutic offering, you’re improving people’s ability to access life-saving mental health care, thank you.
Aidan Scott is Co-Founder of Speakbox. After experiencing several challenges attempting to access care after being diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) caused by childhood trauma. Aidan's experience, reinforced by his experiences working in the public health sector has inspired him to seek out new ways to reduce barriers and improve access to mental health care using technology.