Online counselling (or e-therapy) is pretty new in Australia. It’s been established in the UK, some European countries and the USA for some time, and is growing rapidly.
When I tell people what I do, they are often hesitant or unsure about it. Many people assume it’s just counselling delivered over Skype, and are doubtful as to whether this would suit them.
It may surprise you to know that online counselling is actually it’s own approach. There are training courses, e-clinics for those seeking a directory of online therapists, and it entails a lot more than just a Skype chat.
I am really passionate about using technology to change the world. Sure, that might sound like a lofty ideal (especially when you ARE me and are somewhat technologically challenged), but it’s already happening. Particularly I see social media and the freedom of the Internet giving voices to those that were previously silenced. I see mainstream media being led by online conversations instead of telling us all what we think. I learn about people I never would have had access to before the Internet was around. In that way, it’s wonderful.
It’s also wonderful because it offers opportunity to be more flexible in what we offer people. With online counselling, you aren’t bound by the same:
- Time constraints
- Location-based services
- Inaccessible buildings
- Needing to talk to be able to connect or heal
- Cost (fees can be lower without office space rental)
Does this make you curious? Is this something you hadn’t even considered, but now you’re finding yourself re-considering?
If so, please read on as I outline the 4 main styles of communication in online counselling:
This means you send me an email about what’s going on for you, and I respond. This might sound simple, but it’s really not. To do this well, the counsellor has to be incredibly skilled with the written word AND counselling.
You could write me quite a long email, and I will spend a lot of time going through it before responding in the ways I think might be most helpful- this may be conversational in tone and weaved throughout the email, or may be more summarising and offering some reflections or asking questions to help open things up for you.
The main advantages to email sessions are:
- You can write it in your own time- you don’t have to ‘wait’ for an appointment.
- Some people feel more comfortable writing rather than talking
- Writing is in itself a therapeutic activity and can deepen counselling
- Access isn’t a problem
- Talking isn’t a problem if you aren’t able to talk or find talking stressful
- Some counsellors (such as myself) have trained extensively to use writing in creative ways throughout therapy.
- You may decide to have a combination of video and email sessions to take advantage of multi-channel communication
Kind of like Skype (well, very much like Skype but more secure). We book a time. We have a counselling session for an hour. If there are any technological problems we arrange another time or use another mode of communication. If you would like, I will sometimes email you some time in the days after a video session with some ponderings about our conversation and some questions to deepen thinking.
The main advantages to video sessions are:
- If you live somewhere remote (as many Australians do), you aren’t limited by what’s available around you, and you can maintain anonymity in your community
- We may decide to record some sessions so you can look at them later. This would never happen without explicit written permission (the same as an in-person counsellor would never film a session without your permission), but people who choose to do this find it extremely useful (after we get over the embarrassing part of watching ourselves)
- We can arrange sessions out of business hours and from anywhere suitable
IM (Instant Messaging) Chat
Kind of like SMS/text (but again, private and secure). There are some similar advantages to email, but require booking a time for a session as I can’t provide secure texting when not using the platform, and can’t guarantee an instant response if we aren’t booked in.
The main advantages to IM chat sessions are:
- Like a combination of email and video, this provides huge advantages for those whom talking is difficult or not possible
- We are generally chatting in real time, we can connect on what’s happening for you right now, and resolve any written misunderstandings on the spot
- You will be able to have a record of the chat, you can jot key phrases down and have them handy to reflect on
This is similar to video. We book a time, we meet in the PlusGuidance secure counselling space, and we have a phone counselling session. For some people this is a preferable option, as we are still talking but we don’t ‘see’ each other.
As with video, if you would like I will sometimes email you some time in the days after a phone session with some brief ponderings about our conversation and some questions to deepen thinking.
The main advantages to phone sessions are:
- If you experience social anxiety, or other challenges that make visibility an issue for you the phone can be a great option.
- You can sit around in your pyjamas and be at your most comfortable (actually this applies to all of the above except for video)
- Sometimes it’s just way easier to talk to someone you can’t see
What are the disadvantages to online counselling?
I’m sure you can think of many yourself, but basically the main issues are around simply not being in a room with another person.
- We can’t ‘read’ each other in the same way
- In video it’s difficult to maintain eye contact
- In writing we miss verbal and non-verbal cues that can be helpful in communication.
- We may experience technical difficulties
- We can’t control the environment in the same way (once I was counselling a woman on the phone, and a bird flew into her window! We rearranged the session and it was fine- we even weaved the experience into our work together- but it was definitely an unexpected challenge)
- Therapist credibility can be difficult to establish, which is why it’s important to demonstrate that we are qualified via our websites or on such directories as I do here: http://www.theaca.net.au/counsellor/nicole-hind
- You can pretend to be someone else. This isn’t as much of a challenge as it may seem though. Once we decide to go ahead with counselling, you sign up to prove your identity. Unless you’re a minor (in which case parental permission is required), you can say almost anything you want about yourself. It’s not my job to establish whether you’re telling the truth: it actually doesn’t matter to me. Counselling is about YOU and whatever you find most helpful.
In the modern world we are already overcoming these disadvantages in so many other areas. We FEEL over the Internet, despite the challenges there is no doubt about it. It makes sense to continue to enrich pathways for people to make better lives for themselves in new and expanding directions.
That does sound interesting… what’s next?
In the future it seems clear that as we become more comfortable online, communication and counselling will only grow. We already have webinars, conferences and even school online, so it seems natural that there will be more sophisticated spaces appearing for connection, counselling and support groups across the entire world. I am hopeful that what we can offer people will suit everyone and anyone, genuinely speak to a global audience, and be available to all people in ways that suit them.
I invite you to consider joining me to embark on your own therapeutic journey in ways you may not have imagined.
If you are interested in setting up a FREE consultation or would like to know more about online counselling, please contact me directly on firstname.lastname@example.org