Psychology used to be a job that required professionals to establish a permanent office where they could see people in person. While many psychologists and patients still prefer this arrangement, even before the pandemic, psychologists started to consult online.

The move to online consultations through phone calls, video chats, and even messaging services opened up psychological services to many more people. People living in rural areas or internationally who couldn’t get into an office could now get a consultation. People with busy lives or problems leaving the home could now get help. The service also became more affordable thanks to a decrease in premises overheads.

Not only was this change great for patients, but it was also great for those psychologists who were interested in the possibility of trying the digital nomad lifestyle.

But how realistic is it for psychologists to be digital nomads? Can you deliver the kind of services that you want when on the road?

In this article, we’ll look at the pros and cons of online psychology services versus in-person services, how they are different, and how the format affects the service. We’ll also share top tips for how to make the transition to online psychology if you decide to take the plunge.


How is Online Psychology Different?

In theory, psychologists can offer the same services to clients online as they would in person. You need the same qualifications and must provide the same level of service to patients. Studies also show that online therapy can be just as effective as in-person therapy for various mental health conditions. However, there are differences between in-person and online therapy.


Benefits of Online Therapy

  • More Flexibility. Of course, with online therapy, you can be more flexible with when and where you offer sessions, but also how you offer sessions. For example, in addition to voice call and video call consultations, many online therapy services also offer asynchronous messaging. This helps patients who aren’t yet ready to talk, or who need to check in more regularly about daily struggles.
  • Increased Comfort. Studies have shown that many people feel more comfortable talking about their challenges from the comfort of their own home, rather than a therapy office that can feel clinical. The distance that this creates with the psychologist also helps some clients open up and feel less vulnerable, especially those with anxiety disorders.
  • Help Different People. Online consultations can let you engage with and help people who might not otherwise have access to your service. This can include people with physical limitations, people who live in remote areas, and people who just can’t bring themselves to make an appointment in a physical office.
  • Potentially More Affordable. Many factors go into determining the cost of a psychology appointment. However, online consultations tend to be cheaper as the practices do not have the overhead of maintaining premises. But this is not always the case.


Disadvantages of Online Therapy

  • Reliance on Technology. While technology makes online consulting possible, it can be frustrating when it doesn’t work. If a poor internet connection disrupts an online consultation with a patient, it might be more than annoying. The difficulty that the patient might have in expressing themselves due to the technology can damage the relationship.
  • Insurance Coverage. Not all insurance covers online therapy. This can be particularly problematic in places like the United States where therapist and client need to be registered in the same state. Not being able to accept insurance can limit your client base.
  • Loss of Non-Verbal Cues. Psychologists know that people say as much if not more with their bodies than they do with words. This can be lost in translation when consultations move online. Even when consultations are done via video call, psychologists don’t get the same physical feedback from clients. This means that working online is different and is a skill that must be learned.
  • Not Suitable for All Conditions. While studies have shown that many mental health conditions can be treated just as effectively online as in person, this is not true for all conditions. Severe psychiatric illnesses and crises require in-person treatment. Not only do you need to assess new clients on that basis, but you also need to have strategies to get clients immediate in-person help in case of a crisis.
  • Company Restrictions. As a remote psychologist, you may work for yourself, work for an independent practice, or work for one of the major online therapy platforms. Many of these services restrict what you can do as a psychologist. For example, you may be unable to make a diagnosis and be urged to send clients for an in-person consultation for an official diagnosis.


What’s It Really Like to Give Therapy Online

How you choose to give therapy online will make a difference to your experience, but many psychologists making the transition to the digital nomad lifestyle will join one of the major online therapy platforms, such as Talkspace, BetterHelp, or Cerebral. Fortunately, quite a few have shared what the experience has been like for them.

In most cases, you will apply for a job and go through a rigorous screening process. If you are accepted, you will also need to complete an online course on distance counseling. At this point, you will be put on their roster of psychologists, but it can take a while before you start getting clients.

Most services use AI to match clients with psychologists based on needs and qualifications. You may also have quite a few one-off consultations, as many people decide after the first consultation that they don’t want to continue or want to try a different psychologist. This part can feel like a bit of an audition process, and you need to sell yourself. But most people end up with a good group of clients within the first six months.

Once they get started, most online therapists appreciate the flexibility of setting their own hours and working from anywhere. But they also note that the pay structure can be confusing, which makes it difficult to predict earnings. Also, there will be times when you are receiving more client referrals than you can deal with and others when you won’t have enough. There is also no clinical supervision.

Overall, it seems that these kinds of platforms are best for psychologists who are confident and comfortable working without clinical oversight and prefer a caseload of up to a dozen clients.

Stats collected suggest that most online therapists earn an average of US$32 per hour, which comes out to around US$66,000 per year. Of course, there is the potential to earn much more if you take on a bigger caseload.


Mixing Psychology and the Digital Nomad Lifestyle

Learning how to give quality consultations online is a skill, and making your online psychology career work while traveling as a digital nomad is also a skill. It is much more challenging when you are moving around and don’t have a consistent space to work in or standard hours.

There are a few things you can do to make it easier to combine the two.

  • Consider Time Zones. If you are registered as a psychologist in a certain place, because of factors like insurance, most of your clients are likely to be in that place. Prioritizing travel to places that are compatible with that time zone will make scheduling consultations with clients and feeling alert and focused during those meetings easier. If you want to travel somewhere with a vastly different time zone, consider spending more time, so that you can have more time to adapt to the unsociable working hours.
  • Prioritize Workspace. There are many people who can literally do their job from anywhere, including a noisy café or a bed in a hostel. This is not true for psychologists. Not only do you need a quiet place so that you can hear your clients and show that you are focused on them, but there is also client privacy to consider. Make sure you book accommodation with a separate private workspace or look into coworking spaces with private pods for calls. Of course, ensuring you have a good internet connection that won’t let you down during a video call is also essential.
  • Don’t Work on Travel Days. As an extension of this, never book travel on a day when you have consultations. You won’t be able to deliver your sessions from an airplane or a train, no matter how good the Wi-Fi.
  • Travel Slowly. Traveling a bit slower is generally beneficial for digital nomads. You will save money with better accommodation options, get to know the place better, and have more time to settle in so that you can maintain your routine. As a psychologist, this is one of the best ways to let you enjoy where you are while letting you deliver the quality of service you expect.
  • Create Routine. One thing that digital nomads have to learn is to be able to sit down and start working (almost) anywhere. Because you don’t have your standard office set up that you come to every, you have to create that level of comfort in other ways. One thing to do is have the programs on your computer set up in a consistent way that is conducive to productivity. That means that booking up can feeling stepping into the office. Another consideration is having a routine that helps get you in and out of work mode. It could be starting the day with a coffee and a review of your to-do list. It could be finishing the day by clearing your email (if that is realistic for anyone) and stretching. Come up with routines that work for you and help you transition in and out of the work headspace.


Can Psychologists be Digital Nomads?

Is the career of a psychologist compatible with the digital nomad lifestyle? Yes. An increasing number of people are seeking therapy online creating a market in need of remote, online psychologists. Studies also show that online therapy is just as effective as in-person therapy for many conditions.

But moving from psychologist to online psychologist is a transition. You need to learn how to move your practice online and provide therapy through technology. You also need to learn how to structure your life so that you can provide excellent service wherever you are. While these might be challenging at first, becoming a digital nomad as a psychologist is infinitely possible.

Digital nomad mental health is also an emerging field, with many studies looking at how loneliness, isolation, and a lack of security impact digital nomads. Who is in a better position to study these issues than digital nomad psychologists.