Online Counseling: Fad or Future Standard Practice?


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The counseling industry seems to be woefully behind when it comes to utilizing technology in its business practices. I know many therapists who still keep all of their records on paper. Larger institutions have had to embrace electronic medical records, but not until very recently.

What is Online Counseling?

The words “online counseling” are a commonly searched term on Google. Companies who help to facilitate online therapy have cropped up in recent years. The basic concept is this: have your therapy session via video chat in the privacy of your own home. Your therapist is on the other end in their office or their home delivering treatment as they normally would.

There are still many questions surrounding this new way of delivering treatment: “Is it confidential?”, “Will insurance companies reimburse for sessions the same way they do for face to face sessions?” “Is it as effective as in person therapy?”

Is Online Counseling Effective?

While some of these questions need more time to develop answers, there are some promising aspects of online counseling. Studies show that it is just as effective as meeting with the client face to face. Read about the highlights of several studies here if you want to know more details. In certain states (like California) it is a common practice for insurance companies to pay for online sessions, just as they pay for face to face sessions. I recently contacted one of the insurance companies I am credentialed with, MHNet, and they confirmed that online sessions were reimburseable here in Pennsylvania.

Is online counseling a fad or will it become standard practice in the future? Considering the number of people searching for this service, I wonder if the younger generations who are so familiar with technology will demand this type of service. There are many advantages: no driving to an office for an appointment which would make it easier to attend sessions if schedules or inclement weather prevent you from getting there.

I think counselors who are just starting out in the field should get used to this new way of delivering care. I for one am excited about the possibilities. I think it will bring therapy to people who otherwise might not be able to get it. Imagine someone who lives in a rural area who doesn’t have access to a therapist in their town being able to receive treatment in their living room.

Our Online Counseling Services

We are credentialed with www.breakthrough.com, an industry leader in tele-therapy (see my profile and Jennifer’s profile). The video chat program they use is secure and HIPAA compliant. I have been using this platform for the past two years.

I find it to be very similar to in person counseling and is a great way to continue treatment if you travel for work or go away to school. Postpartum moms appreciate the convenience of it so they don’t have to deal with finding a babysitter.

Due to licensure laws, we can only serve individuals living in the state of Pennsylvania. But that also means our client base has increased to anyone living in Pennsylvania!

Dr. Jennifer Collins and I have been enjoying offering counseling through this medium and we hope to expand it in the future.

NOTE: This blog was updated in March 2017 to reflect changes in our practice related to online counseling.

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Author: Alison Pidgeon, LPC

Alison is the Founder and CEO of Move Forward Counseling, a boutique private practice for women with three locations in Lancaster County, PA. She is passionate about reducing the stigma related to accessing mental health services. She can be reached at: alison@moveforwardlancaster.com.