What It's Like Being A Telehealth Psychologist
It’s an exciting time in mental health. Mental Wellness is being talked about more than ever by people who have the eyes of world watching - everyone from Prince Harry, to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, to Lady Gaga. The practice of telemental health (therapy conducted over the internet via encrypted video conferencing) has exploded over the past 5 years. It’s radically increased the accessibility of mental health and has changed the landscape of mental health practice for good. I’m convinced that telehealth is good for clients and therapists alike.
I’ve been practicing as a Telehealth Psychologist (aka Remote Psychologist, Online Therapist, Location Independent Therapist,Telemental Health Practitioner) since 2015 (at the time of this writing, about four years). At that time, I didn’t know any other mental health professionals that had an exclusively remote practice. In 2018 I took my practice outside the US and decided to become a “digital nomad” - bringing my practice with me as I travelled the world. I spent most of three months in Lisbon, Portugal, one of the most beloved destinations for digital nomads like myself because of the beautiful surroundings, excellent weather, and a cost of living that is extremely competitive to the rest of Europe.
What’s it like being a telehealth Psychologist? Honestly, it’s pretty much a dream come true. There’s little overhead, and you’re able to reach clients beyond those who are within driving distance to a physical office. I used to see clients that lived within 20-30 minutes max from my brick and mortar office. Now, I see clients from all over the state of California (where I am licensed), my area of coverage growing from a 15-20 mile radius to nearly 164,000 square miles (the entire state of California), respectively.
When I had a physical office in private practice, going on vacation meant I essentially had to sacrifice the income I would have made over the time out of the office. Thanks to the flexibility of a remote practice, I can see clients wherever I am in the world, as long as I’m awake during those hours.
In Lisbon, my schedule was:
8am-10am Wake up, get ready
10-4:30 pm Explore, visit friends, sightsee
5pm-1am See clients remotely from my apartment
I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about this schedule, but I ended up absolutely LOVING it. It allowed me to 1) sleep in as long as I wanted without setting an alarm 2) be out during daylight hours and 3) sleep when it was dark out. To this day, I much prefer this schedule to a traditional 9 to 5 because I’m able to enjoy a lot more daylight, whereas in a 9 to 5 it always felt depressing to me to leave the office when it was dark or nearly dark, and then it felt like after coming home you only had enough time to eat, and watch or show or relax for an hour or two before it was time for bed.
There are of course some challenges that come with telehealth practice. Sometimes there are connection issues. Sometimes it’s harder to see subtle body language. And this is going to sound really specific, but I find that most webcams are unable to capture the true vibrance of a person’s eyes.
And how do my clients feel about it? I make a point to screen clients to make sure they are a good fit for telehealth. But the ones that are - an overwhelming amount of them LOVE it. They love the convenience factor, they love not having to drive, and they love seeing me from the comfort of their homes.
But it doesn’t feel as good as being physically together in a room with someone, right?
Actually, you’d be surprised. Some of my client’s (especially the teens and young adults) prefer telehealth to in-person. In my experience, there is just as much ability to build rapport and authentic connection with a client via telehealth as it is in a traditional office practice.
Then there’s the little perks. Telehealth is more eco-friendly. The lack of commuting reduces the carbon footprint of therapy. The time I save by not commuting is time that I can spend doing the things that I enjoy - whether that’s spending time with family or friends, reading, writing, or taking a walk outside. If I have open hours during the day, I can work on a project at home. And I can wear sweatpants and it’s not even weird.
There will always be therapists and clients that favor the traditional practice model. I say, good for them. But for me, I’ll take my telehealth practice, my global travel, my sangrias on the Lisbon coast and sweatpants anyday.
Ultimately, the freedoms of telehealth practice allow me to live a happier, healthier life. And I think the more therapists thrive, the more we’re able to help our clients thrive, too.
What do you think about telehealth practice? Would you see a therapist online? Share your thoughts in the comments below!