Online Counselling, also known as e-therapy or e-counselling, is fast becoming a very popular mode of seeking mental health support by the many millions of internet users world wide.
A significant number of clinical studies (Haberstroth et al., 2007, Shaw et al., 2006, Trepal, 2007) have already shown that Online Cognitive Behaviour Therapy is highly effective for a number of mental health concerns, including Depression and Anxiety.
So why choose Online Counselling versus traditional Face-to-Face counselling? Maybe a look at the many benefits offered by Online Counselling can help to answer this question……
Research within Australia has indicated the following benefits of online counseling:
Online counselling is easily accessible to all those who wish to use it. Online therapy overcomes barriers that may preclude others from seeking therapy. For example, individuals residing in rural or remote areas where there are no counselling services can benefit from the accessibility of online counselling.
Those that are physically disabled or unable to leave their home can also easily access such services with little inconvenience. Those that have visual and hearing impairments can also benefit from such services.
Online therapy is convenient. Both the Psychologist and the client have the convenience of corresponding with each other at a range of variant times. This style of therapy can take away the hassle of scheduling and setting appointments more common in traditional settings. This also creates an opportunity for the Psychologist to extend their services to more clients as appointments can be potentially scheduled over 24 hours and reach a larger geographical region.
For those individuals who are ambivalent about therapy or who may be uncomfortable with traditional models of therapy, may find online counselling more suitable whereby it has been found that online therapy is preferred by those who are uncomfortable with talking face to face with someone about their problems or who are suffering from social phobias, agoraphobias or anxiety disorders.
Online counselling has been shown to be more economical. Counselling can take place from the comfort of the client’s own home or office hence saving on transport costs. For more many, the time saved on travelling is also worth its weight in gold.
4. Social Stigma
Online counselling may also be effective in eliminating social stigma associated with receiving therapy. For those who are uncomfortable with receiving therapy, online counselling allows access to such services in private without having to visit a physical psychology practice. Counselling can take on a whole different image when executed by the client in his or her own home through the computer. It may also allow the client to feel less stigmatized without having to be seen by; others in the waiting room, the administrative staff or any other person who just happens to be walking past at the time the client walks through the door.
Because of this, online counselling clearly does offer the client a degree of anonymity that may reduce such social stigma and therefore prompt them to seek assistance when they might otherwise have hesitated.
The absence of face-to-face contact (through modes such as Instant Messenger and Email) can also prompt clients to communicate more openly without concerns for bias of race, gender, age, size or physical appearance. This may lead to an increased level of honesty and therefore higher validity in the case of self-disclosure. The Internet clearly offers a level of anonymity that is perceived by many users as non-threatening through allowing an ‘invisibility’ that can be disinhibiting.
6. Variant ways to communicate
Online counselling, in which the mode of communication is often through writing via emails or a chat service such as Instant Messenger, allows both the client and the therapist to pay close attention to their communication and reflect on their thoughts and feelings prior to it being expressed. This may be a particularly suitable way of communication for those clients who experience difficulty expressing themselves in words. Clients may also be able to communicate better in this environment as they are not affected by the therapist’s nonverbal cues.
Research suggests that writing during times of distress is particularly useful for clients as it is considered to provide a vital avenue for emotional healing. Given that online counselling is an interactive form of therapeutic writing, interventions delivered in this environment may be quite effective in encouraging clients to express themselves in more thoughtful, self-reflective and insightful ways. Having a written record also allows the client to have a reference point in future discussion, review and in the assessment of change and progress.
In essence, the benefits of online counseling for the client are huge. It gives the client more control through choice of Psychologist, time of appointments, and mode of communication (e.g. via Skype or Email) whilst enhancing the effectiveness of the process through greater self-disclosure by the client as a result of increased anonymity and hence a more effective service to the client.
Haberstroth, S., Duffey, T., Evans, M., Gee, R., & Trepal, H. (2007). The experience of online couselling. Journal of Mental Health Couselling, 29, 269-282.
Researchout.com. Downloaded December 2013.
Shaw, H.E., & Shaw, S.F. (2006). Critical Ethical Issues in Online Couselling: Assessing Current Practices with an Ethical Intent Checklist. Journal of Couselling and Development,84, 41-53.
Trepal, H. Haberstroth, S. Duffey, T., & Evans, M. (2007).Considerations and Strategies for Teaching Online skills: Establishing Relationships in Cyberspace. Cousellor Education and Supervision, 46, 266-279.