Whether you want to practice online or simply market your private mental health practice via the internet, there are several options for getting your site up and running. This article explores some of the background questions you may want to ask yourself, while describing some of the options in detail.
Background Questions About Your Private Practice Website
A big part of deciding how to bring your website into reality is reflecting on what exactly you want it to be or what you personally want from it. If, for example, you only want a page or two to provide your clinic’s contact information and a map of how to reach you, there will be little point investing the time to learn XHTML in order to put together your own site. Likewise, if you are determined to build an extensive presence, with lots of your own articles and other items useful to visitors, signing up with one of the myriad ‘virtual office’ or ‘practitioner network’ providers will be fairly useless. And if you actually want to practice medicine or deliver mental health services online, an off-the-shelf content management system may not be quite up to the job.
So, before committing in any one direction suggested below — or another altogether! — I would encourage you to consider some of the following:
- What will your site be for?
- How much flexibility do you want in terms of altering your site later on?
- How much time are you willing to spend writing content?
- How important is it to you to see your own vision for a web presence expressed in your actual website?
- How much time are you willing to spend learning technical features of site building?
- How much money are you willing to pay someone else to take care of a website for you?
- How much money are you willing to spend on software?
- To what extent does your type of practice (e.g., online counselling vs. working face-to-face) demand that you develop or maintain technical savvy?
- To what extent do you require specific security or HIPAA-compliance features to be part of your web presence?
And don’t forget: what seems like ‘good enough’ for right now might seem like nowhere near enough a year or two from now! (The internet probably is not destined to begin shrinking massively in importance any time soon…) By choosing carefully now, you may save yourself time and money later on as your professional goals develop.
Specific Site-Building Options
Specific site-building options, covered in Part 2 of this article, include:
- paying someone else to do it,
- coding it yourself,
- using a CMS, and
- signing up with a ‘virtual office’ vendor.
Pay Someone Else to Build Your Private Practice Site
Probably the most popular option for mental health practitioners in private practice is simply to pay someone else to design, build, deploy and maintain a website for them. This is also probably the most expensive option for most private practitioners, since it normally involves recurring costs each time any modification is made to the site. Some highly paid practitioners — including psychiatrists and medical doctors — may find it preferable to pay a webmaster’s fees rather than dedicate their own time to the job, although even for these professionals, producing actual content will ultimately come down to spending their own time creating it.
The quality of sites produced by this method seems to vary wildly, with a great number of quite ugly and unusable sites, as well as a great number of beautiful and easy-to-use sites. In addition, the less you know about how your site has been created, the less able you will be to evaluate whether the choices the webmaster has made result in a solid, scalable, easily-modified site that could easily be taken over by someone else — or whether they have effectively locked you into using their services, because other people would have trouble making sense of their work.
Update [September 2012]: In the 7 years or so since this article was originally written, a particular type of outsourced site-building service has become increasingly prominent. In particular, several services provide a bundled or ‘complete package’ of site, hosting, maintenance, and various added-value services (such as shopping carts, appointment request systems, marketing assistance, and the like). Like their quality, the value-for-money provided by these services varies wildly, and many of them come and go each year. If you’re a practitioner who would like to explore this option in more detail, feel free to drop us a note by email (see “Contacting CounsellingResource.com”), and we’d be happy to share our current recommendations based on the feedback we receive.
Pros and cons of paying someone else to build your private practice site, from the perspective of the mental health private practitioner (and excluding some of the more technical factors)…
- Minimal involvement required in the actual site creation and maintenance
- Cost-effective if you earn a high hourly rate
- Professional (hopefully) look and feel
- Bundled or ‘complete package’ services may be cheaper than paying for a dedicated webmaster
- Minimal involvement in the actual site creation
- Recurring expenses for maintenance
- Risk of ‘lock-in’
Building Your Own Private Practice Site in XHTML
Many mental health professionals will want to get in and get their hands dirty; if that’s you, then the ‘roll your own’ option of developing your own website will require some type of editing environment in which to do your creative work. This section includes reviews of two options, Dreamweaver MX 2004 and BBEdit. [Editor’s Note: Since this article was originally published, our review of Dreamweaver MX 2004 has been superseded by our review of the newer version of Dreamweaver included in the Adobe Creative Suite 3.]
The primary advantage of building your own private practice website is that you have full expression throughout the whole project — in other words, both the design and content of the website will directly reflect the choices you have made in creating it. It is also more efficient than paying someone else to do the job, in the sense that you work directly to bring your vision for the site to life, rather than having that vision translated through someone else who will charge you for the time required to figure it all out. On the other hand, it costs time — maybe a lot of time, especially if you have a great deal of learning to do before you feel confident building your pages. Your first attempts may also be not quite as beautiful as you might hope…
Pros and cons of building your own site in XHTML, from the perspective of the mental health private practitioner (and excluding some of the more technical factors)…
- Full expression of your vision throughout the project
- No expensive webmonkeys required
- Your (possibly expensive) time is required
- First attempts may look pretty bad…
In This Section
All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .on and was last reviewed or updated by