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Introducing the future of therapy: virtual therapists. In an age where technology is reshaping our lives, virtual therapists offer a new approach to mental health support. Combining artificial intelligence and empathetic algorithms, these digital companions provide a convenient and accessible way to address emotional well-being.
Virtual therapy jobs like virtual psychologists and marriage and family therapists are projected to respectively add 14,100 and 6,400 job openings every year till 2031. To build a career path in this field you need to know and obtain the right skills and qualifications for the job.
Discover how virtual therapists are revolutionizing the therapeutic landscape, offering personalized guidance and fostering emotional growth in the comfort of your own space.
Who Is a Virtual Therapist?
A virtual therapist is a professional qualified to provide help for mental health issues using virtual platforms. Also known as a remote therapist, teletherapist, or online therapist, a virtual therapist connects with clients through live chat, websites, video sessions, phone calls, mobile apps, private message boards, etc. A virtual therapist provides therapy services virtually instead of in person.
The remote therapist can be a specialist who handles specific types of mental health concerns of specific categories of clients. A virtual therapist can work as a general therapist, or function as a counselor or psychologist provided they meet the job requirement. Virtual therapists are the same as traditional therapists. So they also need to obtain the necessary educational and licensing requirements to function legally and ethically. In fact, they may need additional requirements because of the technology-reliant delivery of their services. For instance, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology’s Health IT Playbook recommends guidelines for the online therapy platforms a virtual therapist may want to use.
A virtual therapist can still have a central office even though they work remotely. The central office may be virtual as well or a brick-and-mortar office if they work virtually on a part-time basis or are still in the process of transitioning to a full-time virtual therapist. Virtual therapists are able to operate fully with barely any overhead costs. The virtual therapist can work at any hour and from any location, provided they are operating within the law of that location.
What Does a Virtual Therapist Do?
A virtual therapist provides psychological advice via e-therapy methods. Virtual therapy can sometimes be a more effective option than traditional therapy because it includes those who would have missed out on traditional therapy for reasons like inaccessibility or just not wanting that physical contact. In addition to general therapy sessions, virtual therapists also provide supportive services that help with the speech and language of clients.
There are different ways remote therapists offer their services and different ways they access clients. Clients can be categorized by their psychological needs, age groups, or their platforms. Some employers also ask virtual therapists to work in groups with special psychological needs such as soldiers, convicts, and addicts. However, the role a virtual therapist can play depends on their discipline and licensure:
A virtual therapist can work as a psychologist that provides online therapy sessions different from the services by a therapist or counselor. Psychologists are required to attain the highest educational level for a therapist, so they have doctorate degrees and tend to the most severe mental health conditions that require long-term intervention. Psychologists deal with conditions like bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), addictions, personality disorders, chronic illnesses, etc. Psychologists obtain their licenses after several years of practice.
Therapists generally work with people that are struggling with feelings and emotions that are negatively impacting their lives. They have master’s degrees in related fields like social work or psychology. In recent times, more people have been struggling with their emotions in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic. The demand for behavioral healthcare is also on the increase and a lot of this demand is being met through teletherapy. Virtual therapists can conduct online sessions to improve the quality of life of their clients by helping them to actualize better ways to express their emotions and overcome their mental health concerns.
You can work as an online counselor in the virtual therapy field. Counselors focus on a specific area causing emotional turmoil in their client such as low self-esteem, grief, or stress. You can start a counseling career with a bachelor’s degree in a related field, but you will need a master’s degree and years of supervised practice to obtain a license. The therapy sessions with counselors are often shorter than those with therapists and psychologists.
Whether you are in virtual therapy as a counselor, a therapist, or a psychologist, here are the conditions you can treat as an online therapist:
- Stress and trauma
- Interpersonal issues
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Personality disorders
- Eating disorders
- Panic disorders
- Bipolar disorder
- Substance use/abuse
- Personality disorders
There are some treatment options that mandate in-person interventions. For example, if the treatment involves walking with the client, then a virtual therapist can take a walk remotely with the client while they stay connected on the phone. However, a virtual therapist should know when it is safer and more effective to have sessions in person which may be the case in issues involving severe trauma where difficult emotions will be processed. This is why some virtual therapists still maintain a physical space if they want to provide services for such clients.
Requirements and Qualifications to Become a Virtual Therapist
Virtual therapists are as qualified as therapists in private practices and healthcare facilities depending on the requirements for licensure in the state where the VT practices. There are also specific requirements by licensing organizations such as the American Counselling Association and the Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. The qualifications and requirements depend on the type of therapy practiced.
To become a licensed virtual therapist, you will need at least a master’s degree in social work, psychology counseling, or other related field. You can advance in your career as a virtual therapist by earning a doctorate. To function efficiently as a virtual therapist, you need a reliable internet connection that allows for a two-way video link.
To meet the requirement needed to become a virtual therapist, you should first decide on the area of therapy you want to address so that you can outline your services accordingly. When you determine the type of virtual therapy you want to practice, you can follow these steps:
Obtain a Bachelor’s Degree
Your entry into the virtual therapy career path is through a bachelor’s degree in a therapy-related field. No matter the area of mental healthcare delivery you want to focus on, the foundation remains your bachelor’s degree.
Earn a Master’s Degree
If your bachelor’s degree is your entry ticket as a mental health professional, you can only begin to specialize as you pursue your master’s degree. Also, most states only license therapists that have a minimum of a master’s degree. To specialize and get licensed, you should earn a master’s degree. You can complete the required supervised clinical hours during your as an intern during your graduate studies.
Meet Licensing Requirements
With your master’s degree at hand, you can go ahead to pursue your license to practice. Make sure you are familiar with the licensing requirement for the state you want to set up your practice so that your operations can be legal.
Attain Ethical Standards
Whether you are kickstarting your therapy services as a virtual practice or you are moving online, you have the same responsibility to your clients. If you will engage third-party platforms or services at any point of your service delivery, ensure they are HIPAA-compliant. Virtual practice does not give room to be lax about the laws and ethics of your profession.
Join Online Networks
As you set up your virtual therapy practice, you need the additional support provided by other virtual professionals like you. Your access to this network will help you to avoid some pitfalls from the experience of those who have been operating before you. You can also get updated information about the right software, tools, and platforms to use. Some region-specific networks provide access to clients in your area or specialty.
If you can practice across several states with your license, you will not want to restrict yourself to a region. This is why you should also find out if you can treat patients across state lines. The Psychology Interjurisdictional Compact (PSYPACT) allows you to practice even in states where you are not licensed provided the states are participatory. The goal is to promote interstate virtual psychology practice. You can obtain temporary authorization or verify existing authorization to practice virtual psychology.
Besides the educational advancements you can pursue to advance as a virtual therapist, there are also other special training that can help depending on your interest, passion, and expertise:
- Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
- Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP)
- Mentalization-Based Therapy (MBT)
- Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
Skills You Need to Become a Virtual Therapist
It takes a lot to become a licensed virtual therapist. First, there is the educational requirement with a master’s degree being the minimum entry. Then there are the thousands of hours of supervised clinical hours. It can take between 2 to 5 additional years besides the 4-year undergraduate program before a virtual therapist can work independently. Within that timeframe, there are important skills the therapist-in-training should develop. Here are the common skills required:
To you, being a virtual therapist is a job, and there is nothing wrong with that. But your patients probably do not see themselves merely as clients. As they are struggling with issues that they cannot solve alone, they need to be sure you care about them and understand them. You need to have a sincere desire to help them live a happier life.
You cannot help a patient that you have not listened to. Listening is not just hearing what they are saying but picking up on cues and confirming what they may not be saying. Listening carefully to your clients to ensure you heard them correctly and guard against any misunderstandings is a needed skill for a virtual therapist.
As a virtual therapist, you need to have strong communication skills to excel. Whether you are speaking with clients or taking notes during sessions, your ability to speak and write must be excellent, leaving no room for ambiguity.
Treating clients who are struggling with their emotions and feelings is a journey. You will need to keep a lot of records to monitor your client’s progress. You also need to keep proper documentation for tax filing purposes. How do you know the progress of your business entity if you do not organize your records properly? You need this skill to improve your productivity and make the most of your man hours.
So many virtual therapists struggle to earn achievable income because they do not run their practice as a business. From connecting with clients, and building an online platform to marketing, you need the ability to put your business out there or partner with those who have the skills to do so. Part of being business-oriented is knowing how to protect your business when you go into partnerships. Remember that therapy is an industry that is focused heavily on ethics because of how vital the trust currency is in this field.
You want to avoid helping promote products and brands that will dent your reputation in the virtual world where your business resides. So make sure you think about your business first and take decisions with its best interest in mind.
Apps for Virtual Therapy Sessions
As the demand for virtual therapy increases, the platforms to meet the demands are also emerging. More people are turning to virtual therapy because it is convenient, private, time-saving, and more affordable than in-person sessions. People in remote areas and those who have to stay at home can now also access therapy sessions by virtue of virtual platforms and applications. Examples of virtual therapy apps include mdlive and betterhelp.
Some approved virtual therapy apps allow clients and virtual therapists to set up appointments. Some established platforms have existing audience which means you will not have to start your practice from scratch when you register with them. You can work with most of these platforms once you are a licensed therapist within your region. Once you submit your application and it is approved, you will undergo training on how to use the platform and you can start your practice.
When choosing the right virtual therapy platform for your business, there are specific criteria to look out for such as:
- An easy sign-up process
- Predominantly positive customer feedback
- Flexible payment options
- Transparent fees and charges
- Insurance coverage and out-of-network benefits
- Financial assistance
- Range of therapist specialties and treatment approaches
- The full range of clientele served
Virtual Therapist Salary
A virtual therapist can earn an average annual salary of $87,857 per year. However, the salary will vary depending on your experience, educational level, area of specialty, and jurisdiction of practice. In most cases, you can set your rate as a virtual therapist and this can heavily influence your salary when compared to the national average. If you have experience of about 5 years and above, you can set your rates much higher than the average.
If you want to tow the virtual therapist career path, there are many opportunities to explore. You can also opt to work virtually full-time, part-time, or operate a hybrid model. The opportunity in the virtual therapy field will continue to grow because the field is growing more inclusive and affordable to a lot of minority groups who now have a better way to access mental health care. Decide on the type of therapy you want to practice, obtain the right degrees and certifications, put in the work to achieve the required supervised clinical hours, and launch out on your own or join the company of your dreams. Congratulations! You are now a virtual therapist.