Counseling Profession Urged to Adopt Unified Standards of Care for Teletherapy

August 4, 2021

Palo Alto, CA - The COVID-19 crisis spurred a rapid migration of mental health providers from in-person to online ser­vices. However, mental health providers conducting teletherapy are not currently required to be trained in telehealth and are operating without consistent uniform standards of practice. A proposed comprehensive list of practice standards co-authored by Donna Sheperis, PhD, and Arielle Smith and published in the Journal of Technology in Counselor Education and Supervision  call for the counseling profession to adopt a proposed Standards of Practice for Telehealth

“These proposed standards are designed to benefit mental health counselors by grounding practice in common aims and also benefits clients by creating a unified framework for providers engaging in telehealth with their clients,” said co-author Dr. Donna Sheperis a counselor and professor at Palo Alto University and Board Certified TeleMental Health provider whose research focuses on best practices in online learning and clinical practice.

The authors state that currently the onus is on individual practitioners to largely teach themselves how to transition their services online.  While some providers can look toward their professional organizations that have published their own teletherapy guidelines, these are not professional standards nor are they uniform or accessible for all providers.  Mental health counselors are seeking guidance in meeting best practices in such areas as selecting and using platforms; screening and preparing clients for telehealth care; managing risk, legal and ethical concerns and maintaining competency.

The authors propose a comprehensive list of practice standards based on a systematic search of existing literature and policy.  They also address the gap in telemental health implementation and provide recommendations for future research and publications. 

The proposed standards address 12 areas essential to best practice:

  1. Training
  2. Platform Selection
  3. Creating an Office for Virtual Work
  4. Legal Concerns
  5. Accessibility
  6. Working with Multiple Clients
  7. Screening
  8. Informed Consent
  9. Data Security
  10. Emergency Management
  11. Boundaries
  12. Assessment

“Having standards of care for telehealth can offer mental health providers and their clients opportunities for successful work within an under-studied realm of service provision,” added Dr. Sheperis.  “In addition, a recognized set of standards can provide a framework for teaching and training of mental health providers.”

Palo Alto University (PAU), a private, non-profit university located in the heart of Northern California’s Silicon Valley, is dedicated to addressing pressing and emerging issues in the fields of psychology and counseling that meet the needs of today’s diverse society. PAU offers undergraduate and graduate programs that are led by faculty who make significant contributions to in their field. Online, hybrid and residential program options are available . PAU was founded in 1975 as the Pacific Graduate School of Psychology and re-incorporated as Palo Alto University in August 2009. PAU is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).  PAU’s doctoral programs are accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA) and its master’s in counseling programs by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP).