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Review of PlusGuidance

31 May 2016    

Review by Dr Carole Francis-Smith, a BPS chartered and HCPC registered counselling psychologist, currently working in private practice 

PlusGuidance

Description: PlusGuidance (PG) is an online platform, which aims to connect trained online therapists with those seeking help for mental health issues. The platform allows therapists free access to the secure webcam, Instant message and email system (some cost implications discussed later) – as well as secure file sharing. It cannot be used on mobile devices currently.

Setting up: It would be fair to say that whilst setting up on PG as a therapist was relatively easy it was also quite time consuming as after providing an email and login details you are required to create an extensive profile, upload documents to verify your ID, qualifications and professional affiliations then set up prices and timeslots (as appropriate) for what you are offering as an online therapist. Whilst I found the process easy to follow the program was a bit glitchy in places, but I have found their IM service has been very helpful in providing relatively instant support on all aspects of set up and use (chat service available in bottom right hand corner).

It only took a day or so to become verified and then I was up and running. As this was a new (to me) type of platform I followed the advice given on the site regarding keeping logged in and responding within as quick a time as possible to potential clients.

Client experience: A prospective client using PG can expect to create an account (email & password) then search for an online therapist using the general tag of ‘I just want to talk’ or more specific search categories. The wording suggests you browse the therapists and send a free message to as many as you like, using the IM service. A list of therapists who match the search and are online now comes up first, followed therapists not currently online. Therapists shown are also ranked on how quickly they generally respond.

If you are inviting a client onto PG you input an email address and they send an email walking the client through the set up (just requiring a login to access).

Ongoing use: In reality what I have found is that by being near the top of the presented therapists list I have had quite a high amount of initial client contact but even though I have responded (what I consider) appropriately there are very few instances where anyone has gotten back to me. Quite a lot of the responses are inappropriate for various reasons but being a compassionate, ethical therapist I find myself signposting clients to other resources. Being a bit of a bane to the IM chat resource (I suspect) I have queried how I could improve my technique. Very helpfully PG canvassed therapists who had successfully ‘converted’ initial enquiries into paying clients and made suggestions like; being online and responding quickly/ immediately, being prepared to sift through non-serious responses, being online on an evening when there was more traffic, drawing existing clients onto the system so you spend more time on it. Verified therapists can also access a guidance section on how to work with clients online written by Dr Kate Anthony (who endorses the company), although most therapists would have undergone online counselling training I suspect.

Having engaged in conversation with a client via the IM system there is facility to start a free IM or Webcam session, or give other contact details to continue the conversation. If a client then buys credit for a particular type of session the credit is taken when the session has happened. If a client does not turn up to an agreed session PG agree (after investigation) to pay the therapist anyway. The email system is more of a delayed IM system where PG envisage agreeing a time to respond but the client being able to log in and add to what they’ve written at any time in between.

Security: PG are a UK company and have servers based in the UK. If you would like to read more about how PG attends to ICO data protection issues please follow the link to their privacy policyYou can be excused for feeling confused about the most recent advice regarding safety of data and legal jurisdiction for online practitioners. Philippa has very up to date and understandable advice in this area – please follow her link to learn more http://www.pwtraining.com

Cost/ Payments: As a therapist you can use the platform for free (no monthly fee) if you port over existing clients and take payment yourself. If a client finds you on PG and buys a credit for one of your services you are charged 15% of the session price plus a 3.4% processing fee, as well as 60p per transaction. PG take the money and hold your profit until you withdraw it (minimum £5 limit). 

Advantages

  • The unique selling point about PG is it has been set up purely to connect potential clients with trained therapists.
  • The platform offers advice and guidance to online therapists.
  • PG offers a free, secure platform to trained online therapists.
  • The PG platform has a professional and fresh look about it and is easy to navigate for clients (once they get the hang of it).
  • Despite taking a bit of time it is relatively easy to get set up and verified.
  • A helpful feature is that if you are messaged when away from the computer PG sends you an email (a short while later) giving you the opportunity to respond.
  • I particularly like the IM support feature, which puts you in touch with one of the team within a short period of time for support with all aspects of PG use.
  • A spokesperson for PlusGuidance would like to add: "As we′re a start-up we are still continuously developing the platform and making tweaks so that the finished product will be as user-friendly as possible.  Customer feedback is invaluable to us and likewise, we aim to give all our listed therapists (as well as those seeking therapists) as much support and information as possible in our service, so that the connection process between potential client and therapist runs as smoothly as possible".

Disadvantages

  • Ethical online therapists are trained to work with safety and contracting so having immediate contact in this way can feel difficult to negotiate.
  • If like me this isn’t your only line of work you may not have the time to sit and wait in case a client sends a message. In all honesty I felt somewhat uncomfortable about vying for business in this way but of course other therapists may feel differently and I understand some are successfully picking up work.
  • PG works with an ics link (Microsoft 10 Outlook diary) which has serious online safety implications.
  • Whilst there is a great deal of guidance/ information available on the PG site, a client not familiar with this type of online resource could initially find it difficult to locate the area they are looking for, such as buying credits. I recommend the therapist have a look at this end of the process in order to direct a new client.
  • There is a high amount of what PG call non-serious contact that you will need to be prepared to sort through. In fairness it does state age and eligibility for therapy on the website but I wonder if the ‘send a free message’ invite is a bit confusing (I have fielded quite a few people looking for free online therapy).
  • There is now a reporting facility for therapists when dealing with underage or inappropriate messages, which would stop the account holder from contacting other therapists. However I struggle with that idea for previous mentioned reasons.

These reviews were conducted on therapist usability basis and are not a definitive guide. Usability is affected by; what type of computer, computer program and broadband service you, and the person you are connecting with, utilise. The reviews are intended to provide helpful information for therapists looking for an online platform.

Philippa has produced a very useful Online Platforms Comparison Summary, designed to help you decide on a platform that suits you. To view a quick comparison of all software log in to your member account here. If you are not yet a member, join here to have access to a variety of exclusive resources and special offers.


 

About The Author

 Dr Carole Francis-Smith is a BPS chartered and HCPC registered counselling psychologist, currently working in private practice. Carole provides therapy both in-person and online from her base near Bristol, and also offers training in mental health issues to organisations. Having undertaken doctoral research into ‘Email therapy and the therapeutic relationship’ Carole has developed a special interest in the process of online communications, and  is committed to the promotion of safe online practice. With this in mind Carole also offers training for new therapists contemplating online working, bespoke training to complement core therapy trainings, and also with businesses to improve communication networks.

Please feel free to contact her by email, visit her website and read a blog she wrote called ‘Therapy through the looking glass; implications for training and beyond…’ on aspects of her research, published on the Online Therapy Institute website.