Teletherapy: What to Know BEFORE Starting!
When I first started my journey as a teletherapist I wrote a guest blog post for Kathryn of Teaching Talking where I expressed how refreshing teletherapy was and how much I absolutely loved it. That was in the early stages of my journey and at that time I certainly appreciated the freedom and flexibility that it offered me. If you haven’t read that post, pause for a second to read “Teletherapy: What’s All the Buzz.” Fast forward to today, now that I’m in my third year as a teletherapist and I am so glad to say that teletherapy is still a GREAT fit for me and my young family. The ability to work from home and be present and available for my kids at the end of their school day is extremely important to me and being a teletherapist has allowed me to do just that.
I have learned a lot over the past few years and although working from home is a huge benefit of being a teletherapist it definitely is not the sole reason why I feel this service delivery model appeals so much to me. One of the most gratifying parts of being a Speech-Language Pathologist is seeing our clients make progress and to help them reach their goals. I have found, over the course of my journey as a teletherapist, that the outcomes I see in my students are significant, measurable, and long-lasting. This truly drives me and has really renewed my passion for being a speech-language pathologist. The fact that I am able to work one on one or two to one with my students has a major impact on the effectiveness of the therapy. I am able to focus directly on the needs of my students and help to build their confidence by capitalizing on their strengths. Not to mention, most of my students are drawn to the technology aspect of delivering their therapy sessions via the computer. This aids in keeping them engaged and motivated, which also contributes to better outcomes.
After working in the traditional brick and mortar setting, I found that caseload sizes, mixed groups, and feeling tugged in so many different directions compromised the most important part of the job – delivering therapy. Although my students were making progress, it was certainly slower due to the fact that most of my groups consisted of six or more students at a time with varying needs and goals. The smaller caseload sizes that are inherent in being a teletherapist have allowed me to customize my materials to truly individualize the therapy sessions and this absolutely works very well for my students.
I have received so many direct messages, text messages, and emails from therapists all over the world wanting to know more about teletherapy. I do love answering your questions and feel honored that you have turned to me. One thing that I have said consistently is to please do your research before you venture into this new territory. To be perfectly honest, every clinical setting has its pros and cons and it is extremely important to take an inventory of what’s important to you and whether this could be a good fit for YOU. For me personally, the pros definitely outweigh the cons and I still strongly believe that teletherapy, as a service delivery model, is challenging (in a great way), rewarding, and refreshing. So let’s talk a little about the cons that I have experienced. To date, most companies that are offering teletherapy positions are only looking for contract therapists. What does this really mean and how does it impact you as a professional?
Being a contract therapist means you are an independent contractor and you don’t work directly for the teletherapy company but rather you are self-employed. You are responsible for additional expenses including, but not limited to, self-employment taxes, liability insurance, equipment, materials, and supplies. As an independent contractor, there are no health insurance benefits, no paid time off, or guarantee of consistent hours. The rates are still currently lower than the industry standard for SLP independent contract work which is a big trade-off, considering all the additional expenses.
So what are the pros? For some, being an independent contractor is a very attractive option due to the tax write-offs, the flexibility of scheduling, and the overall autonomy of being self-employed. As a contract therapist, you have the luxury of being able to decide how many hours per week you are interested in working, which gives you the ability to make your own schedule. You decide which days you are available to work and how many hours you plan to work each day. Keep in mind, building a caseload may take additional time if you are only offering a small window of time each day. The more open and flexible you are with your time in the beginning, the quicker you are going to be able to establish a caseload.
With the pros come some very important things to keep in mind. Once your caseload is established and you have the number of hours that you require, there are a few other things to consider as an independent contractor. Cancellations, student absences, and unexpected events (field trips, district-wide testing, assemblies, etc.) can have a significant negative impact on your pay. Various companies and school districts handle these situations differently, so it is important to ask specific questions about cancellations prior to signing your contract to ensure that you are clear on the policy so that there are no surprises.
Another thing to consider is how indirect time will be paid. As many of us know, the job of an SLP involves a significant amount of time on the backend, this includes documentation, phone calls, responding to emails, corresponding with case managers, and planning for our sessions. When negotiating and discussing your hourly rate, be sure to clarify if the rate is billable for both the direct therapy time spent treating your clients and indirect time spent documenting and planning.
Please note that being a contract teletherapist is not your only option. If you require more consistency with your hours and benefits, there are teletherapy companies that offer full-time, salaried positions. Unfortunately, at this time, salaried teletherapy positions are the exception not the norm. As teletherapy continues to grow, I do feel more companies will begin to make a shift in the direction of offering full-time salaried positions to remain competitive in this ever-evolving arena. I have worked as both an independent contractor and a full-time salaried teletherapist and consistent hours, benefits, and salary are of extreme value to me and my family.
Salaried teletherapy positions are very similar to traditional brick and mortar settings in that, you are paid a salary to delivery services. Every company is different, but in my experience, salaried positions offer benefits that include paid time off, health insurance, life insurance, disability insurance, and 401K options. One of the big pros of a salaried position is the peace of mind knowing that you are going to be paid a consistent amount each pay period regardless of cancellations or unexpected events. As a full-time salaried employee, there is a 40 hour per week commitment and set hours to ensure that you are available to serve the various school districts’ needs.
Generally, a full-time salaried employee receives their equipment, paid training, licensure reimbursement (for states outside of their home state), continuing education allowances, and a library of resources to utilize. Every company varies, so again, ask questions and get clarification during the interview process to be able to make an informed decision.
If you are considering a career move towards teletherapy I hope this information is helpful to you. I cannot stress enough how important it is to really do your research and determine if this is a good fit for you. I had the privilege of serving on the ASHA Telepractice Conference Committee in 2018 and will be serving again in 2019. It was a very rewarding and enlightening experience to see the increasing number of research studies being conducted to prove the efficacy of telepractice. I am thrilled to be on the cutting edge of our profession and look forward to the continued growth of this amazing service delivery model.
I would be happy to answer any additional questions that you may have so please feel free to leave your questions in the comments section below or email me directly at email@example.com.