How I became an Online Therapist
My journey towards a different life.
I remember that very moment when I first thought about taking a sabbatical and travelling around the world. It was about 4 years ago, I was walking around a lake in Leipzig, Germany with two friends. One of them, whom I hadn’t seen in a long time, asked me about my career plans. I was working at the university in a research project about depression and stress in children and adolescents and my contract would be up in a year. At the time there were two main options for me. I could try to stay in research after finishing my PhD and pursue an academic career or I could open my own private practice as a psychotherapist. I had finished my post graduate 5-year psychotherapy training in CBT the previous year, had previously worked in psychiatries and private practices as a psychotherapist and even though research was fascinating, I missed the immediate work with patients. This is what I told him. And then I spontaneously added: “or maybe I will go travel the world”. I don’t know where the idea came from, but from then on there was that little voice at the back of my head… And so it came. About 6 months before my contract ended,
I decided to take a year off before opening my own private practice back home. I had saved enough money and if not now, when?
Once I would have opened that private practice in Germany, it would be a lot more difficult to travel for extended periods of time…
Bye. I am leaving. But I will be back.
About 3 years ago I was about to finish my PhD thesis and my full-time contract was coming to an end. I had booked a flight leaving only 6 days after my last day of work and there where many last minute changes needing to be done in my dissertation. And there was a public holiday that would interfere with the printing of my thesis. Of course, I also needed to pack. So yes, it was a crazy time, I was busy handing over my ongoing tasks to my colleagues and finishing my dissertation, and as often when everything is a bit too much, I got sick. But my flight was booked and I somehow survived. I even managed to finish my dissertation last minute (yes, deadlines help) and did not have to resort to plan B. Only a few hours later, there I was, wandering around Chicago, the first stop of my trip. It took me at least a week to get out of my hyperactive and stressed mode and manage to enjoy autumn in Chicago. Aimlessly walking around the city, reading, drinking coffee and more than anything else: not working. Over the course of the next few months, I travelled around the US and Canada, Mexico and South East Asia, sometimes alone, sometimes with friends or family visiting for a few weeks. I enjoyed my sabbatical, loved travelling and staying longer in places than on regular holidays, all the while thinking about my return back home and imagining what my private practice would look like…
And then, one day, on a beach in Thailand, a Spanish girl told me, that she talks to her psychologist while travelling — through Skype.
I had no idea that this could be done. I had never heard about this before and did not know any therapist working online at the time. But it got me wondering…
Leaving, this time without a return flight.
In summer 2015 I flew back to Germany, as planned, to defend my PhD-thesis. I had prepared my talk mostly while sitting in a beach café on a small island in Thailand. But I did not return to Germany to settle down, to open my private practice. I only flew back for a few weeks, long enough to see friends and family and get my PhD before I was off again, flying back to Asia. This time without a return flight or clear plans on when or if I would ever go back to settle. Those around me mostly thought I was crazy, that it would be an extended sabbatical and that I would eventually come back to my senses (once the money ran out).
Life in paradise couldn’t go on forever, could it?
Very few thought I was serious or could actually work online as a psychologist. Of course I had my own doubts. I had decided to try and see where this journey would lead. So I set up a website and developed my concept and offers, all the while living on a small island in Thailand and enjoying good weather and great food.
Since then I have learned that it is not only possible to work as an Online Psychologist, but that I can reach people who would or could not go see a therapist offline.
I work with many expats, as counselling is something that is best done in your native language. Some of my clients are too shy, others are too busy to go see a therapist every week in a private practice. Others prefer the anonymity that online counselling can provide. They all have in common, that they need professional help to overcome some mental healths issues, from anxieties and depression to relationship issues.
When I wrote the German version of this blog post a few months ago, I was sitting in a small café in Adelaide, Australia. When I first wrote the English version for my own blog, I was in Hanoi, Vietnam. Today, I am in Dubrovnik, Croatia and flying to Venice, Italy, tomorrow. Sometimes I spend a few months in one place, sometimes only a few days. I love travelling, exploring new countries and cities. As a Digital Nomad, I am able to travel and work at the same time, to immerse myself in foreign cultures or to join friends and family at home for extended periods of time or on their holidays all over the world.
But wherever I go, I will keep working as an Online Psychologist, counselling people from all over the world through video sessions, chat, email or phone. Helping them overcome their mental health issues. As long as there is a decent internet connection.
Updated version June, 16, 2017 for Medium. Originally published at www.sonia-jaeger.com on April 4, 2017.