Online counselling statistics can be somewhat confusing to separate from the jargon. Because it’s still a growing area (and to speak frankly, online marketers and SEO experts have an vested interest in promoting the success of global services) clients and therapists alike can struggle to figure out how (and if) it works.
Inspired by my this older post by my friend and online counselling colleague Sonia Jaeger I decided to collate some of my own data. I hope you find this as illuminating, interesting and helpful as I did myself.
My clients and followers
I started private practice 3 years ago in October 2015. I quickly realised it was going to be a much larger undertaking than I had initially thought. The world of websites, ethical marketing, finding clients and connecting with folks was a total mystery to me.
So I found a part time therapy role at Relationships Australia to keep me going (which I did for over a year) and began Unveiled Stories in earnest when I could connect with a couple of carefully chosen professionals to help out. This beautiful functional website was created by Kat Love (Kat is a survivor themselves and specialises in websites for psychotherapists) in April 2016. I also received a little bit of help with copywriting and how to talk about my services from Nikki Bonsol who has a wonderful skill for expressing in heartfelt language healing services.
The majority of my clients are in Australia. In fact, 85% of my clients have been based in Australia. But as you can see from the map, the other 15% of my clients are spread wide and far across the globe (I have done some coaching in the USA and Canada, where laws prohibit the practice of counselling across state borders). Some of them are Australian expats, others are english-speaking folks who connected with my blog posts. My insurance covers me to work anywhere else in the world, which is wonderful.
In addition to client locations (many of whom are also followers of Unveiled Stories blog) the blue countries are where the rest of my main website traffic and blog readership come from.
All of my clients have been female. They have ranged in age from 24 to 75, but most of them are between 30 and 60. This might surprise some of you, as when I began online counselling it was assumed that most of my clients would be under 30.
The women who choose to work with me are reasonably diverse: some are straight others are queer, some are Anglo others are culturally and racially from a variety of backgrounds. I was pleased to see this, because it’s important as a counsellor with social justice framework to be able to offer inclusive services that acknowledge genuine adversity.
Many of my clients are teachers, educators, (almost half actually!), social workers, psychotherapists, small business owners/entrepreneurs, nurses, coaches, in Government roles, and I have even worked with a nun.
The main problems people have sought help for have been relationship issues (past or present), anxiety, trauma, depression, PCOS impacts (self-esteem and fertility), grief and chronic illness. Successful outcomes- though not necessarily in the ways they were expected- have come from such processes as naming and externalising these problems; exploring YOUR identity narratives and re-authoring the problem ones; finding stories of strength; discovering how things feel within the body and working from the felt place and not so much the cognitive.
An unexpected outcome for about 1/5 of my clients has been a career or significant job change. Perhaps I should start offering career counselling!
How many counselling sessions?
It may be of interest to ya’ll that my statistics in this area are similar to that of my previously mentioned colleague Sonia. They are also similar to data collated in a previous workplace, where counselling was low cost or free.
60% of clients have 1 – 2 sessions. Another 20% have between 2 – 6 sessions. Sometimes people book sessions with the intention of only needing a couple to sort out a specific problem. Much of the time, however, we only have 1 or 2 sessions because that’s all the problem needed: the client was committed to book more, but discovered they were fine with just a couple. Of course there are also times where after 1 or 2 sessions someone may find that I’m not the right person to work with or the person is really not ready to engage in counselling right now.
20% of my clients have been long term. That could mean 6 months to a year or longer. The reasons for long terms counselling are: Because the problem is embedded really deeply (E.g.: childhood trauma); The problem is currently ongoing (E.g.: being in a relationship with someone who is abusive and figuring out what to do; being in a carer role and needing support); The person is committed to therapeutic processes, self-improvement, and prefers to be engaged in counselling as a permanent means of support (Counselling can be a really positive and exciting undertaking, some of us decide we find it helpful to stay with a therapist in ongoing work as we continue to see positive changes in our lives).
It’s important to note that rarely do people meet with me every week once we’re passed 6-12 months. Usually over time we extend to fortnightly or monthly until we finish with a reintegrated change and successful outcome. Occasionally folks return after a significant gap with a new or resurfacing problem.
Equally it’s important to note that clients who drop off earlyish without resolution tend to coincide with the inability to organise timely and regular sessions at the beginning.
That’s why most therapists encourage people to have the idea in their head that they will meet with a counsellor weekly for at least 4-6 weeks and that we get the first session organised quickly. Emotions are fickle, so something that IS important can feel less important once the emotion ebbs. Also it’s hard to build connection and relationship- vital for the success of counselling- when contact is sporadic.
Methods of Communication
The majority of clients opt for video sessions (about 80%). Equal numbers of others do talk, IM or email. Occasionally someone will change from IM to talk and then video as anxiety decreases. Others simply prefer to write than talk.
I have discovered there’s quite an ‘art’ to a good IM session, and get feedback from clients regularly that our sessions are extremely helpful and much better than generalised services offer. This is an area of training others I’m considering developing: perhaps it is that Narrative Therapy lends itself more easily and creatively to IM than other therapeutic modalities.
How do people find Unveiled Stories?
This one is a little tricky! As most websites do, I have analytics to try and figure out where folks come from, and therefore where to best concentrate my efforts in reaching people to help them find me.
However I’m not so great with this tech side of things, and as such, there are large gaps in data. Additionally, although I ask in my sign up form how people found me, sometimes they don’t know! And fair enough: we don’t always remember what we were originally searching for when we find that ‘perfect match’.
This chart shows how people who become my CLIENTS have found me:
It’s not precise… sometimes, for example, someone has been getting my emails for quite some time before they contact me. However, largely people have connected with me through Google- some folks have come across a blog post I wrote via a Google search, many have simply clicked on my Ad.
Facebook is also a little tricky to pin down, as I have 2 Facebook pages (one for online and for local face-to-face); my lovely group; as well as various places blog posts have been shared. Suffice to say in general some clients have arrived via Facebook.
It’s heartening and validating as a professional to see that as my practice has grown, referrals from clients I’ve worked with or other professionals or friends have increased. They now make up over 1/4 of where my clients come from. This included my face-to-face referrals locally in Coffs Harbour and Bellingen.
Interestingly, if we’re talking visitors to my website, they come in the highest numbers from Facebook by a huge amount. Then Linked-In and Instagram and, if i’ve been published somewhere else, there’ll sometimes be a surge from that place (E.g: Tiny Buddha). However most clients are coming from Google or direct referrals. My website averages 76% new visitors and 24% returning per week (returning to read the latest blog post for example). Food for thought around social media.
I have discovered a real love of writing, and connecting with people via direct email. I have sent out 76 emails to my list since I began and written 71 Blog posts!!! However I have experimented with how I send emails. In the past I would send something out monthly with links to everything I had published. Recently I’ve been alternating weekly between sending out the latest blog post or a more intimate email that only the people on my list receive.
The most popular blog post is difficult to pinpoint as I didn’t have social media traffic and shares analytics set up for a long time (therefore older posts look like no one has shared them). However by a landslide from the data I do have, with over 2000 shares, is this post on how we judge childfree women. I do know, without hard data, that another post was extremely popular in the past and actually several people chose me as their counsellor because of it, which is this one on alternative ways to do self-care.
This post which I wrote for Tiny Buddha was shared over 2000 times, and I republished it on my site: we don’t have to be confident all the time. My most popular video is the one on my home page about how Narrative Therapy can Help You, but just via the blog it seems to be The Seduction of Sad Town.
My Life as an Online Counsellor
In the beginning, I chose to work online because I knew I didn’t want to stay living in Melbourne, and that’s where I was when I began Unveiled Stories. I didn’t realise how many wonderful benefits there would be for clients and that I would embrace this idea of being on and using the interwebs as a mental health tool so much.
I’ve practiced counselling from inner city Australia to the coast to the country to the outback. I started housesitting (so long as there’s excellent WiFi!). I’ve met with you from The Netherlands, Sweden and Sri Lanka. Since moving to the Mid North Coast of Australia with no plans to leave, I’ve begun connecting with clients in-person again offering women’s specialist counselling. Which is wonderful. However most of my clients are online and I can’t imagine that changing going into the future.
Technology has meant that I can reach people across Australia and the world. If they want to work with me, they can choose me with few boundaries. I think that’s exciting, even if our work is painful at times, and I can’t imagine doing it differently.
Want to work with me or curious to find out more? Fill out my contact form with any questions you might have. I’d love to help you. Nicole. OXO