Technology is constantly evolving – just when we think we’ve got a handle on the latest tech, another new software or gadget hits the market! This can be exciting and intimidating in equal measure. There is no denying that tech has changed the way we live, and it has also changed the way we work, and what was once only available to big businesses is now widespread across industries, from online shopping to banking and telehealth.
Therapists and counsellors are no exception to this change. With telehealth and digital therapy tools becoming more widely used, mental health professionals have had to become more familiar with all this new technology. This can be challenging for all of us, but especially those who have been in the business for some time and are used to seeing clients in person and taking pen and paper notes. But when the right tech is used, it should make your life easier, free up time, give you freedom, and make your clients’ lives easier too.
How Can You Make Tech Your Friend?
I said the right tech should make your life easier and provide a solution to a problem. But how do you find the right tech? First of all, take a step back and think about exactly what areas of your business you want to improve. More clients? More free time? Getting your name out there? That’s the easy part done, now you need to look at the root cause (or causes) of this problem. If you need more clients, what’s blocking you from getting them? Maybe you’re struggling to get your name out there, or perhaps you simply don’t have the time for additional sessions what with admin and marketing efforts. The problem is the same, but the solutions are going to be different.
A solution to your problem
Problem 1 - Finding More Clients:
Maybe you’re new to practice, or the shift to more online sessions has disrupted the way you find clients and take referrals. Either way, there are digital tools that can help you be more visible to potential clients, and grow your brand and business.
1. Social Media – People are looking for mental health information and advice online more than ever before and some of these people will be your future clients. Get yourself on a platform you’re most comfortable with, post consistently and at a frequency that is manageable (I recommend at least twice per week), and be yourself! Social media marketing is a slow-burner, but patience will pay off. I’ve written a whole article on how to market smarter, not harder- and find the best fit clients for you. You can read it here. And if social media isn't your thing, there are plenty of other options.
2. Google business profile & website - Having your google business profile and website set up is essential. Tools like Wix and Squarespace make it really easy to set up a professional looking website, even for the least tech-confident among us! Focus on your niche (best way to stand out in the crowd, and attract those ideal clients), make key information like your prices clear, and have an easy way for new clients to book directly. Google business profile is very easy to set up and free! This will help to push you higher up google listings and make sure you found by people searching in your area.
3. Multidisciplinary network – When working as a solo private practitioner, you don’t have a team of colleagues to call upon when a client needs help beyond your scope of work. Establishing a group of peers across disciplines will help keep clients within your sphere and lead to referrals, without the risk of losing clients when you need to refer out. Social media groups can be useful for this, as can a digital practitioner directory where you can find peers to work with and be found by other practitioners.
4. Automated booking – Online booking is easy, can be done at any time of the day, and it’s instant. When relying phone calls or emails for new client contact, you run the risk of missing out on clients who choose to take the more convenient option of booking with a counsellor who provides automated booking. As an added bonus, when using an online booking systems your clients will be sent reminders close to the session date which will give them the option to cancel or reschedule and reduce the frequency of no-shows!
5. Self-help and mindfulness apps - Hundreds of self-help and mindfulness apps available today provide tools and exercises to help manage stress, anxiety and depression symptoms. Love or hate them, these apps provide an opportunity for therapists looking to grow their brand and business. If that’s something that appeals to you, look out for opportunities to provide content within these apps and get your name out there.
Problem 2 – Not Enough Time:
Wouldn’t it be nice just to see clients, complete training, and have more free time without all the admin and self-promotion stuff that needs to be done! While there will always be work to do outside of client sessions, great tech can significantly reduce the time spent on other work.
1. Practice management software – I'm sure you're no stranger to the stress of email overload. Remembering to send reminders, invoicing and chasing payment, or typing up pages of notes for a client referral or court case. Practice management software automates a lot of these processes and stores all your client information, notes, and invoices in one place so they are always to hand when you need them. This can be a massive time-saver and equally important, these platforms are developed specifically for safely storing sensitive client information (just make sure you chose a UK or EU based platform for GDPR compliance). It can also be very cost effective, as a platform like isosconnect can cost less than a zoom subscription alone.
2. Automated booking & reminders – I’ve already spoken about the benefits of automated booking for your clients, but it’s also a great time-saver for you. An automated booking calendar (that you can link on your website, social media, or practitioner listings) saves you time on calls/voicemails and emails. Another perk of automated booking is automatic reminders that will go out to your clients ahead of a call, freeing up the time you’d spend finding call links and emailing reminders, and reducing the risk of last-minute cancellations or no-shows.
3. Bookkeeping software – If you’ve just completed your online self-assessment, congratulations! It’s not a quick or easy task for most of us but there’s some great, inexpensive bookkeeping and accounts software out there that can automate the whole process of bookkeeping and self-assessment. Freeagent is my favourite for an affordable solution.
4. Social Media scheduling – Save time when marketing your services on social media by using content creation software like Canva (it’s free and easy to use) and scheduling software. Post scheduling allows you to create content in bulk ahead of time, and schedule it to go out on particular dates. There are loads of options to choose from but they all have similar capabilities - and since you are not a professional marketer, a basic package will do! Just choose one that suits your budget.
Problem 3 - Isolation:
Being a solo practitioner can be lonely, and with the shift to online sessions, is increasingly siloed. Tech can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, it opens the door to new opportunities and new ways to make our lives more efficient; on the other, it can further isolate us from the in-person interactions that are so important for our own mental health. Are there ways we can use it to combat isolation?
1. Building a support network – fortunately, there are loads of amazing groups on social media and organisations that allow you to connect with peers, many of whom will relate to and share your experiences. Local groups often organise in-person meet ups and events as well. At isosconnect, we encourage practitioners to connect with each other through the directory - we are stronger together!
2. Disconnect – once you have the right tech tools set up for your business, you should have freed up some time. Try to use some of this valuable time to unplug and disconnect from your devices, spend time with friends or family, and focus on your own wellbeing. As therapists and counsellors, so much of your time is dedicated to helping others – make sure you take time for yourself too.
The potential pitfalls of using tech
During the pandemic lock-downs, zoom, skype, and other video calling software was an absolute blessing! It allowed us to continue working, to see the faces of friends and family we were missing, to take a yoga class! But while attending a zoom yoga class is pretty innocuous, these platforms may not be fit for conducting an online therapy session. Confidentiality is the foundation of any client-counsellor relationship; security and compliance are not only expected but legally required.
When selecting tech tools to store client information and hold video sessions, make sure you choose a platform that is GDPR compliant to protect your clients’ privacy and protect yourself from potential fines (or worse). Without going into the details of GDPR compliance – because that would be a whole other article! – look for a platform that is built specifically for healthcare and based in the UK or EU.
Staying on top of all the latest tech can be overwhelming to say the least! But keeping it simple by focusing on tech that can solve a problem, can transform your business. Conduct a mini business review to identify areas that need improvement, or issues you would like to solve. This is how, as a solo practitioner, you can really make tech your friend.
First published in the National Counselling Society's magazine, Counselling Matters, 1st February 2023. Updated 16th February 2023.