I’ll preface this by saying: I’m not a lawyer. Please do consult with yours as the following is for educational purposes only.
For most therapists, courses may need to be a completely separate business from their practice. So what that means: separate business entity, separate bank accounts, separate bookkeeping, separate website, separate marketing, separate software…
Importantly too, a completely separate business in the case of therapists means separate clients and students. For many therapists with online courses, clients are not also students and students are not also clients.
And I use the phrase “may need to be” very intentionally here because there are several factors that can influence what works for you. You will want to research: what your licensing board says is ok, what your attorney says is ok, what your risk tolerance says is ok, and what your heart says is ok.
What Is A Course?
First of all, its important to note that there’s a big difference between online courses and therapy groups.
Online Course Examples
- Nervous System Regulation 101
- Skills For Parents With Autistic Kids
- Everyday Mindfulness
- Communication Tools For Couples – Learn The Communication Model That Can Save Your Relationship
For the most part, courses tend to be psycho-education based rather than emotional processing based.
Therapy Group Examples
- Women’s Divorce Recovery Group
- DBT Skills Group
- Hair Loss For Women Processing Group
- Anger Management Support Group For Men
For the most part, therapy groups tend to be emotional processing based rather than psycho-education.
That said, there are exceptions. Some courses do integrate a high level of processing space within them and some therapy groups integrate a high level of psycho-education (DBT skills groups are likely the typical example of this!).
The big key thing to ask about whatever it is you want to create is this: do I want to operate my thing under my license? Or not?
Do I Want To Run My Course Under My License? And Accept The Limitations Of Doing So?
According to licensing boards your therapy business operates under your license. And that means that everything you provide within that business ought to adhere to your license’s codes.
If you are wanting to run therapy groups, and you want to offer them under your license, in most cases, a licensing board will give you an enthusiastic green light!
But if you want to start an online business, and actually run it like a traditional online business would be run (meaning NOT under a license), then in most cases, a licensing board would say it’s not ok.
Specific Things To Think About
- Out of state students – if you operate a course under your license, you cannot accept students from out of the states in which you maintain a license
- Dual relationship – if a student is also a therapy client then you are entering into dual relationship with that person. Most licensing boards say dual relationships are a no-no.
- HIPAA – all of the software that is traditionally used to run online courses cannot be used in a HIPAA compliant way. Compliance is requirement under your license.
- Ethics – is it ethical to funnel clients who are seeking therapy services towards a course? Is it ethical to funnel potential students towards therapy instead? Most licensing boards say this is not ethical – to attract clients and sell them a course or to attract students and sell them on therapy.
Figuring Out What’s Right For You
No matter what your licensing board says, how exactly you navigate the separation between your private practice and your course is ultimately up to you.
110% it’s recommended to reach out to your board and your attorney to get advice that’s specific to you: your license, your state, your offering.
But once you gather that information, you’ll find that there are still “gray areas” that you’ll need to navigate.
For instance, is it ok if someone reaches out for therapy, and once you uncover that they don’t have the budget to afford one-on-one therapy, is it THEN ok to offer the course to them as an affordable alternative?
Or what if you have a self-lead online course and one of your clients does sign up for it? Are you supposed to refund their money and kick them out?
And if you have a heart for healing and helping, will you chose rule-following over helping? Or do you feel that rule-following is helping because it’s in alignment with the dictates of a license that’s designed to protect people?
I think the answers to these types of questions, as well as the broader question of how much separation between a practice and an online business there ought to be, are highly unique to the therapist.
Do your research! And feel it out. I think this calls for a head + heart combo leadership. Hope you find what works for you.