Our nation is only getting more internet-centered. You can change your driver’s license address online. You can transfer money online. You can order fast food online.
It’s not a surprise that internet therapy is another thing in high demand right now. It’s more convenient than driving to an office, and more private. People can access it from anywhere! At some point very soon, I predict that Therapy subscription who are not practicing at least partially online will be in the minority.
However, right now, E-Therapy is still barely a toddler in terms of the overall age of psychotherapy. At this stage, the practice is still working out the kinks. There’s not a good overall screening system for ethical online therapists.
That puts you, the potential client, in danger.
This is a business that requires a huge amount of trust. Unfortunately, some clients get hurt when they put that trust in unethical, abusive therapists. That’s why I want to share some simple “red flags” that indicate a potentially unethical online therapist and some “green flags” that mean this person is probably legit. Use these guidelines to help keep yourself safe when searching for a therapist online.
Red Flag #1 The first way you can tell something might be wrong is that you cannot find information about the therapist’s license anywhere. Each therapist should proudly list the state license they worked so hard for, and you should be able to verify their name and license with your state’s licensing board. You can find the web address of your state’s licensing bureau at the American Association of State Counseling Boards website.
Red Flag #2 The therapist disregards state licensing laws. Did you know that it’s unethical to practice outside of what’s called the “scope” of your license? Counseling outside of your state of licensure is considered beyond the scope of your license. It’s such a no-no that the counselor’s liability coverage will not protect them in the event they are sued for practicing outside of their state. If your counselor doesn’t restrict practice to those in their state, be aware they may take liberties with other ethical guidelines as well.
Red Flag #3 The therapist offers you manipulative free session offers in which the boundaries are undefined. Manipulative free session offers might be “unlimited” minutes or sessions until you decide you’re ready to pay. How much will they hold back in the time you are getting for free?
Red Flag #4 The therapist cannot explain how he or she will protect your privacy online. Did you know that just like medical doctors, licensed counselors have to protect your information in a HIPPA-compliant manner? So, you might ask them, how will they store your files? Will they collect your credit card information? If the counselor cannot answer this readily, that’s a red flag.
Red Flag #5 The therapist doesn’t require paperwork or informed consent from you as a client. Why does this matter? Because it’s against the law! A first “session” can legitimately work around this under the umbrella of being a first consultation. But before you get into a committed relationship with your therapist, (i.e. they begin collecting money from you) they should require a signature on an informed consent document showing that you understand the risks and limitations of online therapy.
These are some things not to do. But there are some ethical, responsible E-Therapists out there, and here’s how you can find them.
Green Flag #1 The therapist identifies their license and state, and can provide the date their licenses expires on demand. This means they have been through rigorous standards to get to this point, and they know what they will have to do to keep it up.
Green Flag #2 Your counselor states that they practice only in the state in which they are licensed. Breakthrough.com is the pioneer service for authenticating counselor licenses and restricting client contact to those licensed in their state. If you’re looking for an online therapist, I would start there.
Green Flag #3 Your therapist clearly defines “free” offers, such as a single free session, discounted first 10 minutes, free e-book, or free initial email consult. These are a legitimate tool for a therapist to demonstrate their effectiveness. It’s when the boundaries are unclear that it might be a ploy to manipulate you.
Green Flag #4 Your therapist tells you how they collect credit card information and if they store it, as well as what service they will use to conduct therapy. Video, chat and email therapy need to be encrypted to HIPAA standards. The therapist should have a private line to talk to you that no one else can use to “pick up the extension.”