Transitioning to an Online Counselor: What You Need to Know and How to Do It Well

Becoming an online counselor does not require extra education or credentials, but there are still some things to be aware of before making the transition. Here is what counselors need to know about working in telehealth.

Telehealth providers and online therapy platforms have made it possible for millions of Americans to receive the mental health treatment they need, regardless of where they live. These online services are also helping health care professionals close the nationwide treatment gap, which has prevented many people from receiving mental health and addiction support. 

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has affected professionals in nearly every industry, including mental health and substance abuse counselors. Some counselors may be seeking new positions, while others have to look for additional income for their practice. Internet searches for teletherapy and online counseling jobs have risen as a result, but so have searches for virtual therapy. This trend shows clients are looking for ways to receive therapy from home and increasing the demand for online counselors.

Fortunately, it’s easy for counselors to begin working online. This article provides an overview of how substance abuse and mental health counselors can make the transition to an online platform, tips about best practices and job opportunities.

Increase in Searches for “Virtual Therapy Jobs”

Licensure Requirements for Online Therapists

To begin working as a teletherapist, you’ll first need to become a licensed substance abuse counselor or mental health counselor. Licensed counselors can join a teletherapy platform or use a video conferencing app on their own. Teletherapy platforms vary in their requirements for counselors, but typically require applicants to have state licensure, prior counseling experience, excellent writing ability, a reliable internet connection and a U.S. residence. 

HIPAA Compliance

The Department of Health and Human Services is relaxing enforcement of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) during the coronavirus pandemic. HIPAA protects the privacy of patients’ digital health information. This means counselors can use popular video chat apps to provide telehealth services in good faith without fearing penalties during the public health emergency. 

However, counselors looking to offer teletherapy long-term or those who want more privacy protections should work with a HIPAA-compliant platform. Many of these exist, including BetterHelp, Talkspace and The Nobu teletherapy app is also HIPAA-compliant. 

Tips for Providing an Optimal Online Counseling Experience

Working as an online counselor is similar to seeing clients in an office. Many of the goals, strategies and techniques remain the same. However, communicating online is a bit different from talking face to face, so there are a few tips counselors should keep in mind when holding teletherapy sessions. The following will help you create the best virtual experiences possible, both for your clients and for yourself.

Tips for Video Conferencing

Before beginning your telehealth services, it may be helpful to conduct a few trial runs. This will help ensure that your technology is working well and allow you to perform adjustments before working with clients. 

Before holding a video conference, there are a few basics to consider. You should have access to:

  • A high-quality webcam and audio device
  • A clean, uncluttered background (a blank wall, for example)
  • A quiet area to work that is free from distracting sounds
  • A well-lit room or area where the camera can capture you clearly 

When video conferencing with a client, there are a few ways you can help improve the experience. These include:

  • Reviewing client information before the video chat
  • Looking at the camera instead of the screen
  • Being aware of time delay (account for about two seconds before replying)
  • Muting your microphone when not speaking
  • Using headphones if your microphone picks up the sound from your speakers
  • Dressing professionally

Video chatting is also a two-way street. To help your clients have the best experience, you can also provide them with tips they can use to make the most of their counseling sessions

Tips for Phone, Text and Other Virtual Communications

Your services may extend to email or text messaging, and there are a few things to consider when utilizing digital communication channels. Whether you are sending out meeting reminders or providing live chat services, you should:

  • Use proper spelling and grammar, and avoid typos, acronyms and emojis
  • Be punctual with response times
  • Be clear if you are not available to talk
  • Remain professional and concise

Other Tips for Working as a Virtual Therapist

Some people who begin working remotely find it can become difficult to keep a work-life balance. The internet can keep you constantly connected and you can easily find yourself answering emails or responding to clients outside of normal working hours. To avoid this, it’s a good idea to create “office hours” and make your clients aware of them.

For example, you can let clients know that questions outside of scheduled sessions will be answered within a specified amount of time. This way, they won’t be expecting an instant response. There may be exceptions, but it’s important to stick to your schedule as much as possible. Otherwise, work can quickly seep into your personal time.

How to Find Online Therapy Jobs or Volunteer Opportunities

Many local hospitals, clinics, addiction treatment facilities and mental health centers are looking for counselors to work in telehealth roles. Job boards like Indeed and Careerlink provide open opportunities for telehealth roles throughout the country. 

The Recovery Village also has opportunities available for online substance abuse and mental health counselors. You can view the most up-to-date job listings on our career portal.  

For those who are looking to volunteer their services, many addiction recovery groups are looking for professionals who can host or oversee online meetings since social distancing measures have caused support groups like Al-Anon and Nar-Anon to meet online. You could also create and host your own support group meetings as a service to your clients or community. The Recovery Village Recovery Room app is a free, anonymous platform anyone can use to host meetings through video chat.


Lake, James. “Urgent Need for Improved Mental Health Care and a More Collaborative Model of Care.“>Urgent N[…]odel of Care.” The Permanente Journal, August 2017. Accessed April 19, 2020.

Bureau of Labor Statistics. “The Employment Situation — March 2020.“>The Empl[…]� March 2020.” U.S. Department of Labor, April 3, 2020. Accessed April 19, 2020. 

Office for Civil Rights. “Notification of Enforcement Discretion for Telehealth Remote Communications During the COVID-19 Nationwide Public Health Emergency.“>Notifica[…]th Emergency.” Department of Health and Human Services, March 30, 2020. Accessed April 19, 2020.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.