5 Common Online Counseling Platforms
Online or Telehealth Counseling provides mental health professionals with a wider audience, however, there are so many of them that are available that it can be overwhelming to decide which one is the best option for you.
Some key factors to making the decision on what software or platform to use includes:
Payment Options (receipt of payment from clients)
We will examine 5 common Online platforms (primarily video sessions) with the aforementioned factors in mind. Please note that the following are just a few of the many counseling platforms available and does not constitute an endorsement or affiliation with any mentioned.
Breakthrough- Breakthrough is a common online platform provides directory services so that clients can find you after creating your profile. Breakthrough uses VSee video, but this will have to be downloaded to your computer. Breakthrough has an app for clinicians to use to schedule, check messages, and for clients to search for counselors and to schedule and reportedly to conduct online sessions as well. They are affiliated with some insurance companies, including BCBS. And they will verify insurance benefits when clients sign up as well as require and verify payment. They will even file the insurance for you and pay you the insurance contracted rate (although it typically is paid monthly). You can either bill the client directly yourself or accept payment via the system, whichever you prefer. They charge providers $6.00 per usage, and not per monthly fee, which I prefer. It is HIPAA compliant. Accessibility is limited, however, as clients and clinicians are unable to use it on certain mobile devices and certain browsers. It does provide the ability to send secure messages to your clients, upload documents to them, as well as scheduling and notification when client has completed pre-session assessments and is online and ready for the counseling session to begin. They provide really great IT support and are available to help if you have any "technical difficulties." Breakthrough also has pre-assessments that can be given to clients prior to each session, specific paperwork/informed consents that you can use to give to clients that is specific/unique to online counseling, and a SOAP note form to use to document your session. There is no free trial, however, you are only charged per usage which makes it practically free until you see a client.
Clocktree- Clocktree is an online platform that does not require you to download any additional software. It is HIPAA compliant, confidential, and secure. They even have an app that you can download on any type of mobile device and can conduct online services using phone, tablet, or computer. They don't have a provider directory service listing, yet, but it appears that they are working on it. They provide scheduling and what I really like, they send you reminders via email and text the day before, as well as intermittent reminders the day of the session via text and email. It just let's you know you have an appointment, and does not provide any PHI. You are able to send and receive secure messages. You can also schedule up to 10 hours of video per month, free of charge. They allow you to document, but it does not have a format such as SOAP or other forms for progress notes. You are free to charge whatever you choose to your clients. There is no membership cost for clients to use Clocktree. In addition, Clocktree allows for unlimited clinicians/colleagues to this platform.
BetterHelp- is an online, HIPAA compliant platform that doesn't require any additional downloads. I am not certain about the cost charged to clinicians as it is not posted, but it is listed on apa.org website as a common online counseling platform. It reportedly has more than 1,000 clients search BetterHelp for counseling. BetterHelp does provide a provider directory listing service. They provide a free trial service as well as have a mobile app. They provide secure and encrypted messaging between you and the client. They also do not accept insurance. Clients are charged a membership fee. And am not certain if BetterHelp limits the amount you can charge the clients. They do have a scheduling platform as well where clients can schedule or request your services, however, it does not indicate whether or not they have the ability or capability for you to document or write notes for the session on this platform.
I-Couch- I-Couch is an online therapy platform much like Clocktree, except that they charge a monthly fee of $40. However, unlike the others, this money does go far. It provides you with features such as a therapist website, invoicing/credit card payments acceptance, forms library, to do lists, and better yet, ability to conduct groups. It also provides other common features such as secure messaging, online client portal with scheduling, and secure, HIPAA compliant video. This platform doesn't require any additional downloads and is user friendly in that it can be used on just about any browser, including Firefox, however, they do not have a mobile app. And, they provide a 14 day free trial.
Thera-Link- Thera-Link, is a great HIPAA compliant, secure, online counseling platform, however, I must admit, it is one of the more costlier online counseling platforms. The lowest rate is for only 5 sessions/month at $30/month with unlimited starting out at $45/month. I like this one, however, due to the most unique feature out of all of the online counseling platforms- a virtual waiting room! It's awesome! You can choose which setting you prefer, create your avatar, attach some music, and voila, instant online waiting room! It's a robust online platform service that provides options for group counseling, scheduling, email notifications, secure messaging, ability to use on phone or tablet as well as computer, a mobile app, and the ability to accept payments of your choosing, but it doesn't offer a provider service directory unless you purchase above the lowest base rate/plan. Again, the best and most distinguishing feature of this platform is the ability to create your own virtual waiting room.
And for more information regarding the ethical use of online counseling, especially as it relates to your license, I highly recommend TeleMentalHealth Institute/TeleBehavioralHealth Institute. It has great resources, training, education, etc. as it relates to this growing area.