How to Become an Online Therapist
Learn about the role of an online therapist, how to become a teletherapist, qualifications for different online psychotherapy roles, typical compensation, and frequently asked questions about delivering mental health therapy services via telehealth.
When you think of how the coronavirus pandemic changed culture, the role of and access to therapy may be at the top of the list. The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta reported that many emotions, particularly the fear about the virus combined with public health initiatives such as social distancing, increased stress and anxiety in many. That led more people to seek help for mental health issues through online therapy.
Face-to-face therapy and counseling services are the traditional methods of behavioral health care delivery, and as the coronavirus abates, more mental health experts with private practices will offer in-office appointments. However, a study conducted by Cigna shows a rapidly growing interest in online counseling and telehealth. As a result, online therapists can expect increased client demand, which means there’s never been a better time to become an online therapist.
What is an online therapist?
Online therapists are the same as traditional therapists, but they conduct their sessions in real-time using a website, telephone, mobile application, or other virtual media. Online therapy is referred to as telepsychology, web therapy, teletherapy, and other terms, according to the American Psychological Association (APA). And it’s important to note that the title "therapist" is an umbrella term that encompasses psychologists, therapists, and counselors, added the APA.
The American Counseling Association (ACA) states that online therapy does not eliminate educational and licensing requirements. There are other prerequisites, too, including using online therapy platforms with security standards as recommended by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology.
What do online therapists do?
An online therapist's role varies depending on training and licensure.
A psychologist who offers online therapy provides different services than those provided by a therapist or counselor. Generally, psychologists work with clients with the most severe mental health conditions who are seeking long-term counseling. Situations can include coping with chronic illness, bi-polar disorders, and addictions. Psychologists use various tests to determine mental health strengths and weaknesses so they can develop a specific treatment plan.
Online licensed clinical therapists generally work with those who have feelings or beliefs that negatively impact their lives or the lives of their partners or families. Therapists work with clients on how to better express their emotions and overcome a broad range of mental health concerns.
Online mental health counselors generally focus on a specific issue of concern for a client, such as grief. Their clients are usually in therapy for shorter times than those seen by psychologists and therapists.
Same services, whether in-person or online
Regardless of specialty, online therapists perform similar services as they may provide during face-to-face meetings; they just do it via video conferencing. No matter their degree, online therapists generally engage in "talk therapy" with clients to relieve emotional stress and ease mental health concerns. The therapist collaborates with the client to examine life choices and improve aspects of their life.
The APA noted that online therapy helps ease fears and other barriers that prevent some from seeking treatment. In fact, the APA cited studies showing that virtual messaging therapy can be as effective as face-to-face counseling.
How much do online therapists make?
The range of pay for online therapists depends on many factors, including education and licensure. There are also different pay structures, including hourly, per session and annual. Although the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not break down salaries for online vs. traditional therapists, they offer these insights:
Psychologists: Median earnings are $39.51 per hour or $82,280 per year.
Marriage and family therapists: Median earnings are $24.69 an hour or $51,340 per year.
Counselors: Median earnings are $24.42 an hour or $50,800 annually.
The APA noted that mental health professionals who join online care teams often do so to supplement incomes. Others become online therapists to maintain a better work-life balance, as it allows you to work from your own home and avoid commutes to an office space.
What are the qualifications for online therapists?
Online therapists have the same qualifications as those who work in private practices and healthcare facilities. The requirements for licensure come from the state in which the therapist practices, where the client is located, as well as license-specific organizations such as the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy or the Association of Social Work Boards.
Clinician qualifications hinge on what type of therapy is practiced.
Psychologist is a broad term used for therapists with doctorate degrees. They need to complete several years of supervised practice before they are licensed. The psychologist makes mental health diagnoses and can provide a treatment plan. They generally specialize in therapy for specific issues, including substance abuse and addiction, borderline personality disorder, and trauma.
Therapists generally have master's degrees in counseling, psychology, or social work and complete internships. They also practice in specific fields such as family and marriage counseling. They help clients clarify their feelings and make decisions to overcome obstacles.
Counselors may begin their careers with bachelor's degrees, but master's degrees and licensure are required for practice. An internship is also generally required. In addition, professional counselors frequently focus on short-term counseling for specific issues such as stress or grief.
Steps to becoming an online therapist
The first step to become an online therapist is to decide what type of therapy you'd like to provide and what specialty you choose to pursue. From there, you can take the following steps:
Select your field of study and specialty.
Research and complete the required educational training.
Complete practice hours or internship.
Apply for and obtain a counseling license or certification. Note that these vary across states.
There is an array of opportunities for those interested in pursuing a career in mental health as an online therapist. Whether you want to work full-time, part-time, or per diem, there is likely a job available for you.
Demand is only expected to grow thanks to advances in technology and cybersecurity. Video sessions have also helped some potential clients overcome their qualms about therapy and have given those with transportation or mobility issues a new way to access mental health care.
How much do online therapists make?
The amount online therapists earn depends on many factors, including their education, licensure, and specialty. BLS reports therapists earn about $25 to $40 an hour, but they do not break down salaries for online vs. traditional therapy services.
Is online therapy legal?
Yes, as long as it conforms with state requirements.
What is the difference between online therapy and traditional therapy?
The main difference between online therapy and traditional therapy is the location of the therapy sessions.
What is the difference between an online therapist and a counseling psychologist?
Psychologists usually have doctoral degrees. They diagnose and treat mental health disorders. In some states, psychologists can prescribe medications. Therapists generally do not have doctoral degrees. They generally have master's degrees and primarily focus on treating harmful behaviors such as anger or addictions.
What are the benefits of online therapy?
There are many benefits to online therapy, but the primary perk for most clients and clinicians is that it does not require them to go to a specific location for in-person therapy.
How long is the application process?
It depends on how quickly you fill out an application, provide needed documentation, and are available for interviews and assessments — generally at least two to three weeks.
At Wheel, we look at applications weekly. When your skills, schedule, and licensure suit our company partners, we move into credentialing. Your speed in providing proper licensure and other documentation will make all the difference.
Our company partners find that their needs shift, sometimes dramatically and rapidly. That’s why we ask you to stay in touch with us, especially if you’ve received a new license or otherwise bolstered your skills and resume.
Learn more about working as an online therapist with Wheel.