Welcome to the Online Counseling Podcast, I’m Clay Cockrell, and I’m thrilled that you joined us for what I think is one of our best episodes ever. Today, we’re gonna talk with an online therapist from Australia who is currently in Amsterdam visiting friends, and on an extended vacation, but still working remotely. She has a 100% online therapy practice, and we are going to talk about how she did it, and how her clients find her, and… Well, there’s all sorts of great information.
CC: But first, we have a major announcement about the Online Counseling Directory. I’ve been kind of talking about it for the last few weeks and saying, “It’s coming.” Well today, it is here. As many of you know, the podcast is a direct outcropping of the Online Counseling Directory, which is a listing platform to help online therapists grow their practices, and to help clients find online counselors who are trained and certified. We’re not yet a year old, and already we are one of the biggest directories out there, and are gaining all sorts of momentum. It’s kind of fun to watch this grow.
CC: Now from the beginning, we wanted to make this affordable to therapists. We all have tight budgets, and we have to be careful about our advertising dollars. When we started, I looked to the biggest directory out there, Psychology Today. Now they charge $29.95 a month, and we wanted to be a little more affordable than that, so we priced it at $24.95 a month. And many of our members took advantage of promo codes that brought it down even further to only $19.95 a month, so less than a dollar a day. And online therapists are able to promote their practices. But many people were contacting me and asking if there was any way to make it a little more affordable.
CC: Now, this has always been a passion project of mine. I have a passion for how we as online therapists and life coaches can impact the world and make it better. It’s never been a money-making endeavor, although we do want to cover the costs. This is a project for counselors, developed by a counselor. So with that in mind, today, we are launching a discounted membership that will bring the price down to $12.40 a month when you sign up for a year. That’s less than 50 cents a day. You get one client from us, and you will pay for your membership many times over, $12.40 a month.
CC: Now, this is a trial program, and will be available for a limited time. So if you have been on the fence about joining, now is the time to come on board. Our entire goal is to help you reach more people. And we believe that committing to a year, paying for a year upfront of listing your profile will really take your practice to the next level. You get all the benefits of a standard membership, the therapist toolbox, the industry monitoring, the full profile, everything, you get it all just for a little cheaper. Just go to onlinecounseling.com, and click on, “List my practice.” And if you are a current member, and would like to switch over to this discounted program, just send me an email, and we will get you all set up. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
CC: Okay, so on to this amazing interview with Nicole Hind of unveiledstories.com. This interview is packed full of information on how she started and grew her practice. We talk about marketing platforms, informed consent, the Australian mindset toward therapy, and the regulations or lack of regulation in Australia, and insurance. We get into the nitty gritty of it all, and I hope you enjoy.
CC: Hello, and welcome to the Online Counseling podcast. I am so excited to have as our guest today from Australia via Amsterdam, Nicole Hind of Unveiled Stories. Nicole, thank you so much for joining us.
Nicole Hind: Hi, Clay. Thank you for having me.
CC: So I’m so excited to get to talk to you today. First of all, tell us a little bit about your journey quickly to online therapy, and what drew you to become a therapist.
NH: Well, it’s interesting I suppose. When I was quite, maybe like 19, 20. And I think I was just… I guess like a lot of young people at that age, I was a bit lost, and I had thought, “Oh, you know, therapy would be something I’d be interested in.” And then I realized that I was probably a little bit young. [laughter] And I was involved in… We have something called Lifeline here. I don’t know if what the equivalent in the States would be, but it’s like phone 24 hours a day, phone counseling. And they used to be… Yeah, they used to be like a youth branch of that where it was young people, by young people, for young people. And so I did train in that, and it’s all totally volunteer. And so yeah, I guess it gave me that grounding of, “No, I think this is something like what I would wanna do.”
NH: And yeah, and then so from there, I studied Social Sciences, and worked in a sort of social work area, so I worked in disability support, and youth work, and a bunch of stuff like that in Australia, and oversees a little bit, and saw opportunities to travel. And then I… What did I do then? I came back, and was working in youth work in Melbourne. And then I decided to start, go back to counseling, so I did post-grad in online counseling. And then I… Look, this is just gonna go on. [laughter] And yeah, and then I moved to Darwin, and I was working with children there, and I was able to play therapy stuff. And that’s when I discovered that…
NH: That the Dulwich Center, which is the kind of narrative therapy was doing there… And you know a whole year of master’s in combination with Melbourne University and I was like, “I’m gonna do that”. And so…
CC: Great, so your degree is in counseling then?
NH: Yes, it is, yeah.
CC: Okay, and you’re currently in Amsterdam visiting friends, but where in Australia are you typically based?
NH: I live in Melbourne.
CC: Melbourne, okay, lovely. Now, curiously, you’re on kind of an extended holiday. And are you working while you’re traveling with your clients?
NH: I am. This is the first time I have actually done that though. So, I’ve been doing my Unveiled Stories private practice for around about a year. I’ve only had a website since April 2016 so that seems to me that’s when you start if you’re gonna be working online. And I was working part-time in an agency and I just left that role to try and pursue this more full-time and I thought, “Why not start out how you want to continue”? Which is to be able to visit friends and travel for longer periods of time rather than be locked into a location.
CC: That’s interesting. To start out the way you want to continue. So start your practice the way, instead of one day I’ll branch out into online counseling, this is I’m gonna start how I want to end.
NH: Yeah, I actually went to, so it’s a big learning curve for me has been, which I hear a lot of the therapists talk about on your podcast, is small business and private practice. Understanding that at all. So the very first small business training I went to, that was the thing that she opened with. [laughter] Was start out how you mean to continue. And it was more also for people who are selling a product. Don’t spend hours and hours and hours and hours wrapping something perfectly and putting little bows on it and doing all that stuff because you have to think about how are you gonna do that when you have a thousand customers. And so the thing was sort of around putting in effort, of course, but making sure that you’re able to maintain what you’re doing. And then she also started talking about making small business fit your life rather than the other way around, and choosing the lifestyle that you want.
NH: So, yeah. It was really inspiring and useful.
CC: Absolutely. And so many people that I talk to are drawn to online therapy because they want to travel. I’m a New Yorker, and I’m sitting here in Miami because it’s really freaking cold in New York right now.
NH: Well I’ve stupidly done the opposite and come to Amsterdam where they’ve had the biggest snow that they’ve had in five years.
CC: That’s right, oh my goodness.
NH: From like stinking hot heat back home.
CC: That’s right, this is summer for Australia. I just watched the Australian Open and I’m like, “Oh, that looks so lovely and hot”.
CC: It’s that freedom to take my clients with me. And to be able to travel and work at the same time. So I can really identify with that. So, now you said she. Did we get connected through Jo Muirhead? No?
NH: When did I say that? No, I only listened to her on your podcast. Or, yeah, I know who she is. She doesn’t know who I am. [laughter]
CC: She’s a fellow Aussie, helping with private practice people build their practices. So I thought maybe when you were saying you were training that maybe we got connected through her.
NH: No, no, it was a totally random… It had nothing to do with online therapy actually. It was just small business. So I only discovered a lot of people since discovering the Australian Counseling Podcast and then various Facebook groups and stuff. So I knew who she is but she doesn’t know who I am.
CC: Okay, well I’ll have to make an introduction. But tell me a little bit, ’cause there’s a lot of people out there that are thinking about private practice, what drew you to that? Did you always feel like eventually you’d want to go into private practice? How did that get started?
NH: To be honest, it’s really, and I don’t know how if I’m gonna get myself in trouble or not. I just am very… I don’t know how other people feel but I’m really tired of bureaucracy and agencies and I just feel like my last role I was working, I was employed to do a role and it sort of ended up becoming something a little bit quite different. And I was working primarily with women who are survivors of family violence or domestic violence.
NH: And some of whom are also longer term trauma survivors. I guess I just felt like the agency is constantly encroaching on you to produce reams and reams and reams of data. To see more people, fit more in, not to do long-term work. You know that, I don’t know, just that kind of… And I feel like I’ve been… To be honest, my resume looks like a little bit of a… [laughter] I’ve been around. I’ve moved a little bit as well. I like to, obviously. I like to be able to move and to travel. But also, yeah, I just felt like I really wanna take something with me that I can build long-term with people.
NH: Do the work in the most richest ways possible and I can just focus on that and I don’t constantly have what I consider to be like bureaucratic nonsense. [laughter]
CC: I’m with you on that. But was it scary for you? Like, “I’m gonna go out and start a private practice and it’s a small business”.
NH: Yeah, oh yeah, absolutely. And I think that it was sort of… I was having a hard time in another role. Not this last one but one before it, and that’s kind of what happened. I finished that roll up, ended quite suddenly because I just felt like I needed to leave. And I think… I know I discovered… And I sort of thought I could do this. And then I thought in Australia, which I’m sure you’re familiar with, no I couldn’t possibly because I’m not eligible for the Medicare rebate which is basically where the Medicare… Where our med system will pay you the difference between what… I’m trying to think how to explain it.
CC: It’s like insurance, that you’re getting some kind of funding.
NH: Yeah, but everybody gets it. It’s public health. So basically if you are a registered psychologist or a registered social worker, you’re eligible for that, but if you’re not, despite the fact that I’ve been to university for well and truly as long as both of those [laughter], and I’ve chosen my path because it’s what I’ve been most interested in the ways of… I just really wanted to learn how to listen to people most effectively and sit with people in pain rather than diagnosing them, and so I have chosen that path, but also… I originally thought, “No, it’s not possible.” And then I discovered there is a group of private practitioners in Australia that they use marketing essentially, to bring people to them. And that’s when I discovered you guys and the groups in Australia and lots of people who are counselors doing that, and I sort of thought I’m in a fortunate position in some ways than for other people because I don’t have a mortgage and I don’t have kids, so I don’t have… It sort of seemed like now is the time if I’m gonna ever do it.
CC: Sure. Sure.
NH: I know it’s not the end of the world if it sort of puts me in a bit of debt or it doesn’t quite take off.
CC: That’s interesting, I think a lot of people get stopped at that point of… I don’t have permission from someone else, I don’t have… The door is not open. The way is not clear on how to do this. But I think you’re an example of, “I can figure it out on my own. I’m gonna find other people that are doing this and follow that model.”
NH: Yeah, that’s pretty much, yeah… [laughter] And look, that’s probably anyone who knows me would probably just say “Yeah, that’s what… ”
CC: That’s what you did.
NH: Nicole does. [laughter]
CC: That’s what Nicole does. [laughter]
NH: It’s like maybe I’m a bit stubborn or a bit, there has to be a way. [laughter] But it’s been a pleasure.
CC: What were some of the challenges then and how did you get past them in starting an online therapy business? ‘Cause it sounds like you’ve got some small business training. What were some of those challenges for you?
NH: Let me think… [laughter] finding… I realized I got sort of handed a workbook so even just things like, basic stuff, like getting an ABN actually, which is easy, but then realizing just how many more things are attached. Finances, working it out. How are people gonna pay you? What’s that gonna look like? If you’re not gonna have an office is that possible? Do I need to train specifically in online therapy if that’s what I’m gonna do? The website, and the way I felt started making website was eventually I just decided I had to pay somebody to make one. [laughter]
NH: And that’s something I think… I don’t know about other people, but I know for me, I sort of went, I realized how much work it was gonna take me on top of all the small business kind of grasping.
NH: Like grasping the concepts of blogging and stuff, which is still new to me, and being on top of that I can’t learn how to make a website.
CC: Oh, I am so identifying with you right now because I got to that point. I’m like, “If I can do this myself, I’m going to save some money.” I’m the cheapest person ever. And then I’m sitting there going, I’m learning an entire different industry, one that I really don’t like.
NH: Yeah, [laughter]
CC: And trying to pick colors and fonts and how does this work, and what’s this SEO stuff? And people go to school for this. Why would I be so arrogant to think I’m just gonna figure this out myself?
NH: That’s exactly what I thought because I thought… You know what, I get frustrated when people minimize online counseling, when people say. “Oh, you know, counselors are okay but I really need to see a psychologist.” Or, “Counseling, did you… ” And sometimes asking from a well meaning point of view for themselves, they’re thinking they wanna change careers, and they say, “Oh, so did you do a course in that?” And I’ll be like, “I went to university for over seven years, plus years of experience in social work and counseling.” [laughter] So I feel like, “Hang on, I have to respect that.” [laughter]
NH: Somebody else is gonna…
CC: Somebody else has done this. I just need to pay them to go do this.
NH: Exactly. And I also thought, I’m the same, like I’m just wanting to save costs. And then I went, “Hang on. I don’t really have to outlay for much of anything.” And anyone else starting, it’s not… And this was the advantage of going to Spaces. In Victoria, the state that I live in, they have a lot of, they’re basically the government wants people to be running small businesses, right. So they do a lot of free or very cheap government courses. So no one’s trying to sell you anything, they’re just teaching you about small business and it’s often in your local area. And so all the other people there are not necessarily therapists. So when you hear from other small business owners, like how much risk they’re taking, how much loans they’re, how much money they’re kind of borrowing, or… I’m thinking five grand for a website isn’t really a big deal. [laughter]
CC: Right, because people are doing manufacturing.
NH: That’s right.
CC: And their materials and all of… Yeah.
NH: Totally. Huge, huge amounts of money.
CC: We don’t have to do that it’s just us.
NH: And I know we are in another… In Australia, I guess… Although it is changing, like my university debt essentially doesn’t have to be paid off. It’s not like the loans that Americans get. So we… [laughter] It just comes out of our taxes, so it’s not like something that I’m sitting on where I go, I have to pay this back in a certain period of time. So I really don’t have… It makes sense that…
CC: Look at… Everybody that’s listening is going to have a certain set of advantages for them and disadvantages. Maybe they do have kids or they do have a mortgage, but certainly it’s nice to hear somebody that said, “I’m just gonna figure this out.” So you’ve got some free training and there’s a lot of free training out there.
NH: There’s certainly enough… A lot of the people in the room at the small business training were actually new moms. I was blown away. At least half the people in the room were people who were new moms, who didn’t wanna go back to their old jobs, who were like,”You know what, now’s the time. I’m gonna do this.” So they were totally opposite position to me. [laughter] So I was interested to look around the room and say everyone here has a totally different story, and like you said, a totally different set of advantages and disadvantages. And they’ve arrived so…
CC: Yeah, alright. So talk to me a little bit about the marketing. You’re an online therapist with a brand new company. How did you get those first few people to come in the door as it were?
NH: Actually blogging. So I like writing and obviously it also fits a little bit with my umbrella under narrative and so I started to just write some blogs, and all I did really was share them on my own Facebook page, my personal Facebook page, as well as my business page and I asked my friends to share them. And so some of my first clients were people I didn’t know, but they were friends of friends. So I personally don’t have a relationship with them, I’m never gonna cross paths with them, they’re not in Melbourne. Which is the great thing about online. And so my first few clients were through… Yeah, through…
CC: Social Media and blogging.
NH: Yeah, yeah. Not even sort of… At that time and probably still actually, people arrived through that same channel.
NH: Or so and so’s channel.
CC: I think that networking, and I’m a big fan of Business Networking International and some of the other networking groups. Whether it’s your… What’s it called, the city charter or commerce. And they’re just places to get your name out, pass business cards and word of mouth and it’s about your network isn’t it?
NH: Absolutely, and I guess the other thing I say to people is, you just never know what people are going through. There’s so many… And maybe that’s an unfortunate thing about our society that we feel like we have to be so private about things that happen to everybody.
NH: But what it means is… When something… When a friend shares something on their Facebook wall they have no idea that some friend of theirs from university who they haven’t even seen for years is grabbing on to that and being like, “Oh, here’s a person who’s gonna… Who understands me.”
NH: And that’s another thing about blogging to me is that… And the thing that I had to get my head around, and I know this is hard for all online therapists from listening to your podcast is that idea of selling. And the thing I’ve really gotten on board with with blogging has been that the people who are arriving are people who are going to do well with me because they like what I’m writing.
NH: And they’re on board with that. And so even though by no means do I have the blogging down pat and by no means have I sort of honed in as well as I could do on sort of a niche audience or anything. But I… The people who arrive have said, “I read this, I loved what you said, I really related to it, and I really wanna work with you.” And so that’s… They’re arriving at that point. They know so much more about me than I know about them when I meet them, and I think…
NH: Just from… It does such… It makes such a difference to that power dynamic as well that… Yeah.
CC: Oh, absolutely, and I don’t know who first told me about it, maybe Cat Love or one of the therapists or website designers that I talked to said that because of the blogging, because you are putting yourself, your voice on your website these people know you, they know your thoughts, they know your… Almost your speaking pattern really because they have read so much about you. And that welcoming when they first come in the door, they first meet you online there’s always, there’s already some kind of rapport from them. And then we’re doing a little bit of catch up ’cause they know us but we don’t know them.
NH: Yeah, yeah. And also, I do videos now. And actually, this is another thing about paying… So Cat Love made my website and although she didn’t… I haven’t… I wrote the copy which I’ll be working on but [laughter] I kinda wanted to have something there before I… And then have a bit more of an idea of who my audience is gonna be before I did some more copy work. But what I was gonna say that having somebody like Cat or any web designer who knows your industry is that she actually said things like what you just said then about marketing about it’s not… People need you and they need to be able to find you. And then also, she put me in touch with a lot of other online therapists [chuckle] and a lot of other people doing this stuff so that… Actually, that was at an advantage that I never would have thought of about paying a web designer [laughter] to make your website is that she knows more than I do [laughter] about who’s out there and where they are and what they’re doing.
CC: Absolutely, absolutely.
CC: So give us a little window then because you’re doing online counseling. And is it 100% online? Do you have an office, do you ever do face to face?
NH: I have done a little bit, but no, it is now 100% when I’m online and I just kinda get excited.
CC: 100% online. So I’m gonna ask you… That leads me to another question but the question I was gonna ask was give us a little window into counseling in Australia, the acceptance of mental health care and the acceptance of online therapy. Is this just a thing or is this brand new for them as well? But before we get to that the… Now I lost the first question I was gonna ask you.
CC: Oh, I know, I know what it was. People talk to me that they go to online… They have online therapy with their client, but generally it’s someone they’ve already worked with face-to-face. So that they’re concerned about having that first session online, are they gonna be able to connect, are they gonna be able to have that rapport with that person that they haven’t been working with face-to-face. And that had never really occurred to me because so many people I… I have a… Basically 50% at least are online. A lot of my online clients…
NH: Oh wow.
CC: I meet them online. So what’s that… Do you find that difficult to have the first session online?
NH: No. No, I probably used to. Look, I actually think… I understand why people are anxious about it or… Of course they are. It’s… And in Australia, no it’s not a thing actually, even though it should be given our distances. But we have also got pretty bad internet. So we don’t… And in fact a government that skimps on the internet so it’s really like…
NH: We need it desperately. And I’ve actually lived in rural and remote areas. So I also understand how much things are lacking and also that people don’t just necessarily wanna go to the only therapist in town, and have their problems known. They wanna talk to somebody who’s not there, and so…
CC: So this is kind of an untapped market, at least that the market is unaware that this is a possibility, that they could get services.
NH: Well, there’s a lot of… There’s public services, so there are free phone and online counseling services, but yeah it’s definitely a bit primitive. And certainly the systems and stuff… For instance, I actually use Plus Guidance as my primary platform because I write with people a lot and I need a platform that does that as well as video and as well as people can make payments through it. And it’s obviously UK-based, so that’s a bit… Calendar-wise, it’s a bit irritating because you’re trying to make time differences in your head, but my clients are not all in Australia.
CC: Okay, so…
NH: So anyway. I don’t find that difficult, but I also think there’s something here about, my role is to be an advocate for the internet. No one wants to think that they’re getting online counseling through a second class citizen kind of thing. They want to believe that you believe that this is possible and that, not only is it possible that it’s gonna help them and that it can… So to me, my role is about following up on that. And one way is that I’ve certainly done that is just noticing how the internet itself has been claimed by people who were sort of traditionally made voiceless by mainstream media. So I’m really interested in, I follow a lot of queer folks, disabled folks, feminist voices, et cetera, et cetera. People who use the internet to not let anything slide by. And in fact at this point are almost informing mainstream media and stuff, and so I sort of think that that’s a forum, it’s a place for all of us who have been made invisible in some way or another. And so for me that… Yeah, that’s how I kind of think about it and then try and use the space, the vast, vast endless space, as a way to help people.
CC: Okay, so I’m a bad podcaster, I threw three questions at you at once. So very sorry about that, but we’re all on a learning curve. So in Australia, the concept of getting therapy online, getting counseling online, is not necessarily taken off. You personally, you don’t have a difficulty in connecting with somebody for a first session, not having a face-to-face session, to start out the relationship. What about the mental health stigma in Australia? Is it acceptable to… I’m gonna go get counseling. This is a good thing, or is this secret? Where are we on that in your country?
NH: It’s a bit all over the place. I think that there’s been a lot of work done around reducing stigma, but also that it’s still very what I think of as medicalized. So, because as I was saying before you can get some sessions at a reduced price or fee. And that being said, that therapist might charge $180 or $250, Australian dollars, and then they’ll get the client, the person will get $100 back, so they might actually be out-of-pocket exactly the same as they would to somebody who charges less, for example. So, there’s a whole bunch of stuff around that people think you go to the doctor, the doctor’s gonna do a thing, a little test to see how mentally well or un-well you are, it’s just 10 questions. And then the doctor will refer you to a psychologist, or you’ll find your own and you’ll get some sessions.
NH: But I think that people do take that up. I don’t think it’s outrageous of people to do that, but I think often there’s a lot of cultures around what the problem has to be for you to even think that you would do that. It’s certainly the idea of actually just finding your own therapist, like googling online and finding somebody is newish and I know some people are arriving at me from doing that, even though I’m not, certainly not on anywhere near the first few pages. And then the idea of paying for therapy, it can be a little bit daunting to people as well. The idea that that’s something that’s valuable enough that it’s worth paying for. And it really depends on where people are located and all that kind of stuff. So…
NH: Stigma, mental health, and the medicalized approach have limitations around what, I guess it’s people who are more interested in what therapy could possibly achieve over some time, that would be tending to look more for a counselor, in any way.
CC: So you’ve got a global client list, I’m assuming. Where are your clients located?
NH: UK and Europe and there’s a little bit of a tricky space. So, my insurance doesn’t cover me to work in Canada or in America, as you well know, because of the state licensing laws.
NH: However, I also have a coaching agreement, which talks about, obviously that there’d be a limitation around insurance and I do have a couple of clients who are in those countries, but they are actually already in the field, so they are fully aware. So to me, it’s informed consent, the person, it has to be coming from a position of understanding what that really means if they wanna work with me.
CC: Interesting. I think that it really depends on your comfort level with risk. I know a lot of non-US, non-Canadian counselors and therapists that are working with US and Canadian citizens, but it’s just really important with that informed consent to say, “Look, my insurance does not cover here,” or, “We’re gonna call this life coaching.” There’s all sorts of different ways to work around it if you want to work around it. There are… It just depends on your comfort level with the risk of things.
NH: Yeah, and that… Like you just said to me, that informed consent it becomes really important in that space of being like, “I need you to understand and do you understand, make it really clear to me that you understand. And do you really wanna work through this?” And I think that’s, yeah. So when people are really like. “Yes, I absolutely do.” Then it’s like, “Okay, we’ll… ”
CC: So let’s look at some of the logistics then. You said that you use Plus Guidance. I think you’re one of the first people that has mentioned that, and I talked to somebody the other day about Plus Guidance and they’d never heard of it. Plus Guidance is a place, it’s like Doxy.me or Zoom or Skype. It is a connecting platform, right?
CC: But they also have all sorts of other things that…
NH: Yeah. And I think because I’ve always… Because the first thing I looked at was through the UK and then that platform was mentioned. And maybe it’s just me, maybe I’m a bit lazy, but I just use the same one all the time, I don’t… I’ve never actually had any problems with it. And if I have had any kind of issues, I just email them. And this is what I love about this work versus even an agency is that I’m so used to dealing with appalling systems that are not designed for our work. My last work, we were using a platform reporting system that I believe was used for accounting at some point. And then I try and fit it into how we were gathering therapy.
NH: So to me, it’s like if something isn’t really right… For instance, I really want them to have more emojis and emoticons and stuff in their Instant Messenger part of it, so I just email them and say, “Is this a thing that you’re doing?” Rather than trying to have 50 different platforms, I just ask them. And because… I don’t know if this is… I don’t know what their perspective on it is, but my perspective is that they’re a business and that they wanna be successful. And so if I’m telling them this is something that’s needed and there’s lots of other businesses starting up doing the same thing, they want to have the best. [laughter]
CC: Yeah, absolutely.
NH: We have to add more functionality in if online therapists are asking them to do more, if that makes sense.
CC: Yeah, so with Plus Guidance… Okay, here’s another two-part question. Do they also bring clients to you? Are they a directory? And if so…
NH: They are.
CC: They are. So they’re… ‘Cause I’ve heard them and kinda looked like, “Okay, that’s kinda not my competition.” But it is somebody else that is also having an online counseling directory. Do they… ’cause there’s a lot of platforms out there that it’s almost like a dating service. They match the client. The client has to answer all these really personal questions and then the platform says, “Oh, here’s the therapist for you.” And I’m like, “Ugh, I don’t like that at all.”
NH: No. You know what…
CC: It’s like I want the client to have the freedom.
NH: I actually don’t know. I should, I’ll have to go and play with it as if I was a client, which I did do a long time ago and now forgotten. I’m not sure how that works. Yeah, they had a lot of issues I know at the beginning with a lot of sex tests on there, and they seem to have gotten rid of that completely. That’s not an issue anymore. So yeah, I don’t know actually.
CC: Go check them out, plusguidance.com. I wonder if they’ll give me a plug too. But it sounds like that they’re quite reputable. But I think it’s all something to be careful of when a platform is getting all sorts of personal information from a client, and then choosing for the client who the therapist should be, which I would imagine is just who’s next in the rotation, but maybe they do some kind of matching.
NH: I think that they… Well, I have a full profile on there. So people have full profiles a little bit like any directory, and my understanding is at least to… I haven’t gotten a huge amount of contact through the directory side of it yet, but when they have arrived, they have definitely arrived at me. And there’s a link. But I’m not sure if they found me. I think they just write… Actually, no, I have done this, I’m pretty sure they just writing in where they are and what they’re, what the issue is, and I don’t think there’s heaps of information. But yeah, I could be wrong about that. So I should check.
CC: Okay, yeah.
NH: And the thing I like about it is being able to get, well one, they have a stripe. So, which is like PayPal.
CC: Oh yes, the stripe, yes.
NH: Basically I don’t have to worry about international payments or even national payments for that matter. If I put the client in there, I don’t pay anything. So I just use the platform for free. And if the client finds me through their directory, then they do get a percentage of sessions.
CC: So that brings me to another question. We talked about how you got some of your first clients. How are people finding you now?
NH: Well, another thing that I do is I share blog posts on pages and groups that I’m on on Facebook or anything that I think might be relevant. So sometimes I get a client through expert things. I’ve written a couple of blogs for InterNations, which was Cat’s suggestion. And then also, for instance, coming to Amsterdam I joined a Facebook group for women, and then I shared a couple of posts on there. But also engaging with people. So I’m, I mean I wanna be… I knew I was coming here, so it was also like, “Hey what’s up, where would I go to do this? Where would I go to do that?” So I’m actually using, I’m engaging as well, I’m not just dropping and running.
CC: Exactly, exactly.
NH: Yeah, and I… I’m just trying to think how else people have arrived. I do Facebook ads, I’m experimenting with them at the moment. It’s a little bit tricky to figure out exactly if they’re working or not. [laughter]
CC: It is isn’t it?
NH: Yeah I know, right.
CC: I just did the Facebook Boost the other day, paid $5. A hundred people went to my little thing about the online counseling podcast. Ninety-nine of them were from South Africa. I’m going, “I think I did this wrong.”
CC: Either that or people in South Africa are fascinated with online counseling.
NH: Well, maybe they are actually. I don’t know. Well see, and I think there’s a few things about working internationally. There’s things that stand out to me as being, I’m certainly not perfect, but I think there are things if you’ve never traveled and you’ve never really known anybody from another country, I don’t actually recommend working internationally because there are things that…
CC: Yeah, there’s real cultural differences that you need to be aware of when you’re working…
NH: And the other way that that happens is, I’ve had a client arrive for instance, who was seeing a therapist in the country that she’s living in and she was saying that, she goes, “Yeah, I feel like there was a cultural issue.” Because she just kept telling me, “I was unhappy because I was unmarried.”
NH: Married and didn’t have children yet ’cause obviously that’s what every woman would want, and she was sort of like, “Yeah, I feel like I really needed to find somebody online.” [laughter]
NH: We were never gonna connect. [laughter] She was never gonna be able to help me. [laughter]
CC: That’s really interesting. Okay, just to keep us on track, just a couple of things I wanna touch base on. You mentioned your insurance. What insurance carrier do you use?
NH: What’s it called, Focus.
NH: So just being a member of the Australian Counseling Association, Focus is their sort of I guess chosen provider and it’s just… So they… Yeah, they’re pretty…
CC: And they cover you for online therapy work.
NH: Yeah, so basically, yes, and they can cover you for, like I said… And this is, I think I’ve heard you talk about this before the other way around. We’re certainly like US counselors and stuff that they can work anywhere in the world, but we can’t work there. [laughter]
CC: Right. [laughter]
NH: You know, as a counselor or a…
CC: I keep… There’s somebody that mentioned Balens in Ireland, I think, and they say that they cover non-US therapists working in the US, so I’ve gotta look into that.
NH: Aha, mm-hmm, okay.
CC: Opening up our market, it’s unfair. We could work in the US and the UK but you can’t.
NH: Oh yes. Yeah. [laughter]
CC: We’ve built a wall around our country. So yeah, that’s a topic for another conversation. What about regulations? Any regulations that you’re aware of in Australia about tele-mental health?
NH: Well, no. Actually, the issues are more around things like counseling is completely unregulated. And there is an advantage to an unregulated industry because I think there are a lot of people… There’s a lot of, therapy can be very Anglo and be very… So it can leave out a lot of people who would be amazing online therapists but who are non-culturally Anglo. So I can see all the rigorous testing and all that kind of stuff might actually leave out people who are great at this work. But the flip side is, of course, then Joe Blow down the road can stick a sign up out of the front of his house and say he’s a counselor. And he doesn’t have to be… And so we can… Certainly in terms of tele-mental health, there’s no laws. We can use Skype, for instance. I just don’t. But we can use Skype and we can use…
CC: So I, being licensed in the United States, if I had an Australian client, all good.
NH: Oh yeah, absolutely.
CC: Okay. Now we’ve talked about the nuts and bolts of business of small private practice of growing that, being online. We haven’t really talked about your approach. I wanna touch base on that because I…
NH: Oh no, the first fun bit.
CC: I find that fascinating. You do narrative therapy, you do a lot of writing work with your clients. So talk a little bit about your particular approach with your clients.
NH: Well, let me think. So, I guess narrative for me is an umbrella or a way of looking at the world where it’s kind of… And a key part of that practice is something that’s called externalizing. So where are you… The person is not the problem, the problem is the problem. And part of that might be then really getting into the nuts and bolts of what the problem is, giving a problem a name and then finding and looking for counter-stories that don’t fit in with that definition of self.
NH: So your idea of who you are and your identity, that we have quite thin stories and we tell the same stories over and over again about who we are and how we arrived here and all that stuff. And so, there’s ways of sort of trying to explore some of those identity conclusions that we have that are… Might not actually be true. You know? [laughter]
CC: Yeah, it’s challenging our identities as the stories that we’re telling ourselves about ourselves.
NH: Totally. So to me, there’s really a lot of opportunity available in writing with people, and certainly I actually… I know that there’s a lot of people are very concerned about. What if you’re writing with somebody and they’ve got trauma, or you couldn’t possibly do writing? And I don’t find that to be true. I actually get people arriving, who find being in a room with a counselor far too confronting. And so they just don’t go or they started and they stopped. And so they’ve actually gotten in touch saying, “I really wanna try writing with someone because I really wanna work through this, or at least start to work through it. And I can’t be in a room. Just the explosion of energy and emotion for me is too much.”
NH: So actually for an example, I wrote a blog post about… I mean, completely changed all the details about one person. Or as an idea of working with somebody, is around that rather than focusing on the trauma and re-traumatizing somebody, it’s more about, “Okay, well let’s start with where you’re at right now. And what this thing is that’s happening to you.” In that case, it might be… I think in the blog post I made, I just made something up, but this is real work where I think in that story I said something about, “What’s the anxiety like in your body?” So we’re spending a lot of time not just calling it anxiety, but what is it actually like to you. And certainly something that might come up or has come up in the past with me, and it’s particularly with children, or there are children I’m doing online therapy. Is that you… There’s an electricity under the skin. I feel electric buzzing. And so for me, then there’s a chance that the more we explore that to be like, what would you call that and that person might call it electric eel.
NH: People come up with names all the time. I’ll ask people things about, “Is there an animal? Is there an image? Is there a story? Is their a character? Is there something that experienced near not psycho-babble?” So then, so say the person says that, then to me, there’s a chance to quickly Google image electric eel.
NH: And then you find a picture and send it to them straight away. Does this fit? Does this look like a little bit like what’s happening inside you?
NH: And then the person can be like, “Yeah,” or, “No, not quite.” Whatever it is. And there was a time with a person that I’m thinking of… I’m using this made up example where then that actual image linked to a story of another person. And so in the case of the… Not in my blog post, in the other work, it was part… It turned out to be connected, the image turned out be connected to an out-therapy page. [laughter]
NH: And so the person who is being unable to share their story actually found another story about this image, and what it meant to him and then she was able to compare what it meant to her. “Oh right, so it means this to him. Well, to me, it means this.” And it actually enriches… It’s like bringing other people into the space and making it…
NH: Less terrifying to talk about this thing that’s happening to you.
NH: And so, now we’ve got a picture, we’ve got a story. We might have some details about electric eel that we can then expand on and grow, or can compare to somebody else’s electric eel. And so, now we’ve got a… Yeah, do you know what… Yeah, so there’s an opportunity to really use the stories available on the Internet right now. And we also know that people… Other therapists must experience this, where you’re trying to link somebody in with something, and they don’t follow it up outside of the room. But when you’ve got someone, you’re in the room, in the moment. So another thing is even just things like forums. I know, again, with a lot of women who are survivors of family violence or trauma, if you know of a really good quality forum which is well facilitated, that you can link in real time, and then you can pull a story out that’s in the forum and sort of say, “Hey, this sounds a little bit like you’ve been experiencing.” And it’s a way of kind of, “I know of a client who… ” Yeah, then that would be kinda really a safe haven for her to explore her story with other people who understood, without having to physically go to a group. Yeah, so that kind of thing, to me, is really…
CC: I have talked openly about my own past prejudice about how people…
NH: You have. [laughter]
CC: I have. And you’d think this guy that has done such out-of-the-box thinking with Walk and Talk Therapy and online counselling and all this other stuff that… I was like, “Yeah, but there’s the line for me. That’s when you get into the goofy stuff, is the writing, the emailing.” And time and time again, I am so fascinated at the power of text-based therapy and counseling. And you seem to have taken it to this even different and other level of real-time writing and collaborating and pulling in images and you talk about these emojis. And this is sometimes the only way that our clients can do the work and to participate, because of their own trauma or experience, this is just how they work. So we’re trained in school, meet the client where they are, so…
NH: Yeah, I think there’s also something around… A lot of people assume that only young people would wanna talk like this, and actually, I don’t have an online therapy client that’s under the age of probably 28, so they’re not young. They’re people who have tried, who’ve been trying, who are just needing to try something else. And another thing I do in longer-term writing with people would be, as well… So we’ve found a way of naming a problem and approaching a problem, but then also we might use… If I was emailing with somebody, sometimes we might have two documents running at the same time. So one document will be the preferred identity self or journey that the person’s going on through the therapy, and then the other one is the conversation, if that makes sense.
CC: Yeah, absolutely.
NH: So we can add things into the journey story, so that the person constantly has that to look at and continue to refer to and yeah, try and get…
CC: Well, that’s the incredible thing that you’re saying about Plus Guidance, is that they have that technology. And I know there’s a couple other… I think We Counsel maybe has that. That you have to have the online therapy platform that’s going to have the technology and the tools that are gonna be able to allow you to work the way you work, whether it’s just audiovisual and that’s all you need, or you need all this other text-based stuff, so…
NH: Yeah, and like I said before, it is that thing of being able to just contact and sort of saying, “Look… ” For instance, they don’t have emojis yet, and so, it’s been a thing of, “I think this would be really helpful.” Even my supervisor, who doesn’t do online work but is an amazing narrative… And he got quite on board with it and was saying, “Wouldn’t it be handy then, if a person who needs to tell you that, ‘I’m being challenged right now, I can’t keep talking,’ that they could just press a button and there’ll be an emoji, and then… ” And so, yeah, I’m like, “That would be great. I’m gonna email them and tell them that.” [laughter]
CC: Yeah. Right, right.
NH: So yeah. I think you can also attach documents and stuff in there, so if you can’t use the… The actual system is a bit limited, you can attach a full… A word document or something. Sometimes people send poems and things too.
CC: Yeah, I think that a lot of people have said, “Maybe we should add @onlinecounseling.com at the directory,” that we would also add in this platform and be able to connect. But everybody… I think that therapists need that freedom to go choose the platform that they want once they’ve connected, so… I don’t know, we’re still thinking about it.
NH: Yeah, well, this is part of the thing. It’s tough work, I guess, doing something that’s a little bit pioneering for all of us, but I also think… Yeah, that means that the possibilities are massive. And I think it’s also that connection with these startups and stuff who don’t know anything about therapy, it’s an opportunity to kind of even find complementary… People who know how to make things [laughter] with your ideas of, “I wanna be able to do this. How can that happen? How can we make that happen for people?” So yeah.
CC: Well, Nicole, I can’t thank you enough for coming on. I think this is maybe the longest podcast we’ve ever done and…
NH: Oh my God, I’m so sorry.
CC: No, no, I was absolutely fascinated, and I think that you brought so much great value about having a global practice and how you grew that and facing your fears and I got a lot out of it, so there’s that.
NH: Oh, thank you. [laughter]
CC: Thank you so much. Nicole Hind can be reached at unveiledstories.com. That’s gonna be in the show notes. Please reach out to her. Nicole, thank you again for coming on.
NH: Thank you Clay. Thanks so much for having me. It’s been a real pleasure talking to you.
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