Becoming a virtual therapist — my personal and professional journey

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Ayanna S., M.S, LPC, LMFT, CTMH, AbleTo Program Therapist, shares her personal and professional journey in becoming a virtual therapist. Ayanna walks us through the different skills and education required, the benefits of virtual therapy, and how AbleTo supports her in providing quality care.

Why I chose to become a therapist

Over the years, people have often asked me what inspired and motivated me to become a therapist. They usually ask because they know the challenges that come with this professional journey, from carrying the emotional burdens of multiple people, to processing difficult circumstances. But for me, therapy was more than just a career. It was the only profession that met at the crossroads of my journey, passion, and calling.

Before I even knew what a therapist was, I was constantly helping and counseling others. Friends and family found a safe place when talking with me and would often come to me for advice. As a caring, empathetic, and compassionate person, counseling and supporting others through challenging times always came naturally to me. I didn’t see it as a burden, and I was always energized when their eyes would light up because of a solution or breakthrough in their circumstance. I’m genuinely compassionate and welcoming, with a smile on my face, and a smile in my voice when talking with others.

After graduating from college with my Bachelor’s in Public Administration, I started volunteering as a tutor for children in a Charter school. Unsure of what the future held, I went on a path of self-exploration toward my calling. During this time period, I still remained a cornerstone for many of those around me and provided a place of comfort and counsel.

From Dallas to Houston — my therapist career journey

This journey of self-exploration hit a huge milestone over 15 years ago. I decided to follow my instincts, completely reset, and relocate to Houston, Texas. I am extremely close to my immediate family and even though leaving (distance wise) my support system was a challenging decision, I knew it was the right thing to do.

Once I got acclimated to the city, I enrolled in a post-baccalaureate pre-med program. This was pretty short-lived, but my time in the program was well spent. It was actually during this enrollment that I realized all the signs were pointing to what would eventually be my calling — becoming a therapist.

And just like that, one day shortly after I left the pre-med program, I got a letter in the mail about a Master’s of Science degree program in Psychology with a specialization in Marriage and Family Therapy. This program also allowed for dual licensure as a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT). I knew this was a pivotal moment in my journey, so I took a leap of faith and enrolled in the program.

Throughout my 3 years in grad school, I was exposed to internships and practicums and various clinical and medical models. I learned a lot from fundamental therapy principles and approaches utilized in various mental health agencies, hospitals and private practice, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Solution-Focused Therapy (S-F T), Narrative Therapy, Collaborative Therapy, and Cinema Therapy. After graduating with my Master’s, I completed testing and received my associate licenses, and after meeting direct care requirements for permanent licensure, I went on to become dual-licensed as a LPC and LMFT.

Becoming a virtual therapist

Along my initial journey as a therapist, I observed clients having incredible moments of breakthrough and growth. Yet, my journey would continue on before I truly realized how incredible these moments could be. After my initial work with clients in direct care, I went to work for a healthcare company in behavioral health utilization, which also required my same licensure, and I worked there for several years. Due to unforeseen circumstances, I had to take a brief medical leave of absence. During this time of self-reflection, I had a personal revelation of the importance of self-care and impact of behavioral health services.

However, I knew as a traditional therapist that access to care was a barrier for many. Due to accessibility issues, a lot of people weren’t able to get the mental health care treatment they deserved. At this point along my journey, I started out with another telehealth platform, which paved the way for me to learn about AbleTo’s virtual therapy services and how they helped to overcome this barrier. I was fortunate that I was able to make a smooth transition in my virtual therapist journey to AbleTo by way of Sanvello; and in 2021, I joined AbleTo as a virtual therapist and became part of an essential movement to make mental health care more accessible and affordable.

Virtual therapy has grown my desire to help others become the best version of themselves. In the wake of an unprecedented pandemic, remote care has been a pivotal part of helping people process, recover and rebuild. Every individual I’ve met and worked with at AbleTo has constantly inspired me to give it my all, each and every day.

My passion for therapy is pretty obvious within my network of friends, family and colleagues, so I usually get a lot of questions from folks who are thinking about becoming a virtual therapist. I figured I’d use this opportunity to answer some frequently asked questions and help others interested in the field get a better insight into roles, responsibilities, education requirements and more. To further my own professional development, I also became certified as a Clinical Tele-mental Health (CTMH) provider.

Every individual I’ve met and worked with at AbleTo has constantly inspired me to give it my all, each and every day.

What is virtual therapy? What do virtual therapists do?

Virtual therapy is a form of telehealth that has seen tremendous growth in popularity since the pandemic caused a global shutdown. It’s been instrumental in increasing access to care for individuals who may not have the resources, time or transportation to meet with a therapist in-person, every week.

A virtual therapist essentially provides remote care, allowing patients to receive treatment from the privacy of their own homes. It can be delivered online, via phone and/or video counseling to patients. Since COVID-19 shook the world in 2020, there has been a huge increase in remote therapy jobs.

What kind of training, education requirements, and qualifications are required to become a virtual therapist?

As far as education goes, you’ll need to have at least a Master’s degree in social work, counseling, marriage and family therapy and/or psychology. Once you have your degree, you’ll need to prepare for licensing. There are several different routes you could take when it comes to licensing and it will largely depend on your state’s licensing board, and what kind of patients you want to see. A few common licenses include Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Licensed Professional Counselor, and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (some titles vary depending on your state’s licensing board).

Both virtual therapists and traditional therapists have to renew their licenses every 2 years or so. In order to meet these license renewal requirements, therapists have to complete continuing education (CE) sometimes referred to as continuing education units (CEUs). There are tons of resources from professional development with your agency to notable associations within the industry. Below is a list of these trade associations that provide professional services and support for therapists:

What are the benefits of being a remote therapist?

There are several benefits in this space, but I’ll start with how rewarding it’s been working as a remote therapist with AbleTo. It’s an incredibly fulfilling experience when participants discover positive things about themselves, from replacing negative thoughts with positive thoughts, to applying skills learned in our sessions to their daily lives — and all of this has been accomplished virtually.

Along with the great results from my participants, working remotely has been a great step forward for my own personal career and mental health. I’ve been able to schedule my own appointments, work from home and build collaborative relationships. And even more so, build genuine therapeutic relationships with participants, encourage them to empower themselves by thinking positively, making positive lifestyle changes, and having the work-life balance to support it all; AbleTo has really made it possible for me to do what I love.

What are the common roles and responsibilities of a virtual therapist?

As a Program Therapist at AbleTo, I deliver online therapy services to individuals remotely, via phone or video. I provide treatment to our amazing participants for 8 or so weeks, using the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) approach, which has proven to improve both behavioral and physical health and lower overall medical costs.

I monitor and track participants’ progress with descriptive session notes, collaborating with a care team that includes coaches and my Clinical Supervisor. I evaluate patients for any safety concerns while ensuring that I maintain confidentiality in compliance with HIPAA.

AbleTo’s phenomenal telehealth platform equips us with the tools we need to help our patients and access their records quickly and easily. From medical record databases, program content, vast resources for participants and providers, and even our own appointments calendar, AbleTo’s user-friendly dashboard brings the therapy office right to our fingertips. And this isn’t applicable to just therapists. Participants can access the portal on our website which contains the positive tools and resources embedded in our program content.

AbleTo’s phenomenal telehealth platform equips us with the tools we need to help our patients and access their records quickly and easily.

Making a difference as a “work from home” therapist

Everyone has a “why,” a culmination of both defining and being aware of daily experiences that have shaped their thoughts and behaviors. I’m constantly inspired by our participants’ stories of resilience and perseverance. I can say that I enjoy the excitement each day brings. No two virtual sessions, and no two participants are the same. I genuinely look forward to coming to work each day (from the comfort of my home, of course).

But when you’re doing what you love, can you really call it “work?” For me, I don’t see my current role as that. I see virtual therapy as a rewarding career, one in which I help make a positive difference in the lives of our participants, every day. I can say that I’ve truly found where I belong; I have my purpose. I feel this place of delivering high-quality care and seeing others find positive breakthroughs are where I am at my happiest.

My favorite quote by Mother Teresa summarizes it best, “Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier.”

Join our community of clinical social workers

Our team is always looking for compassionate providers who want to make a difference in people’s lives. We’re actively hiring for both part-time and full-time therapists. Check out our career page to learn more.