In this day and age, access to an affordable therapist is just one click away. If you are familiar with using the internet or downloading apps, the convenience of being able to access therapy anywhere you are should sound very appealing. But what exactly is online counseling?
Online counseling or e-therapy is when psychological advice and support are provided via the internet, rather than in person.
Unlike the conventional version of one on one counseling, this kind of therapy can be provided through a variety of different means. Such as:
- Phone Calls
- Chat Room Assistance
- Message Boards
- Video Conferencing
- Text Messaging
While moving forward with futuristic versions of counseling is exciting, you might have some questions about this new method. Questions like:
What are the pros and cons of online counseling?
Affordability: One of the first things people are concerned about when seeking out counseling is cost. Thankfully, online counseling seems to be quite affordable for not only the therapist but the client too. Some therapists aren’t able to pay for a proper an official commercial space to set up an office in, so this lowers all the costs of property, capital, commuting, and administration. This translates to much cheaper rates for the client.
Convenience: The most beneficial factor of online counseling is that it is convenient. Communication between the client and the therapist is able to flow more seamlessly because of the flexibility of scheduling. Trying to find a mutual time to meet and setting appointments are things of the past that have just become a whole lot more simple. For the therapist, it means that they can take on more clients and reach a larger client base.
Accessibility: Anyone with online access can have access to online counseling. This type of therapy opens new doors for some people who were scared of counseling before. If the commute was the issue because you live in a remote area with no therapy services, you now have an immediate alternative.
Because of physical disabilities, a lot of people aren’t able to leave their homes and don’t have access to counseling. Online counseling takes away the barrier and provides anyone with physical disabilities access to affordable counseling.
With this alternative, teenagers and children are also more comfortable using it because it is a vehicle that they are familiar with—the internet.
Anonymity: Face to face communication can be intimidating, but online counseling fixes that. Clients are able to be more honest and open when sharing and don’t have to worry one second about the bias of gender, size, race or age. Anonymity on the internet provides a protective shield or invisibility that are huge benefits to clients that are introverted.
Social Stigma: Unfortunately, there is a stigma that comes along with needing counseling, but this new method may be able to help get rid of it once and for all. Online counseling gives the option of getting treated privately instead of having to go to a public facility for anyone who is uncomfortable with receiving counseling. Online counseling eliminates the need to sit in waiting rooms which can be embarrassing and provides you with an option where you can get counseling at home from your computer.
Alternative Communication: Because communication on the internet is generally in the form of being written out, expressing your thoughts and feelings online allows you to take time to think through exactly what you want to say before the information is sent and digested. Chat rooms and emails are the perfect avenue for this and are a great way for anyone afraid to share their feelings to finally feel the freedom to do so.
On top of that, writing in and of itself is a healthy way to communicate in times of distress, and can provide emotional healing. Expressions become more self-reflective, insightful and thoughtful when written out in this way. Because everything is written down, the therapist is able to read through all of the conversations to make different observations months down the road.
Effectiveness: Is online counseling effective? This has been a big question among therapists. There isn’t a whole lot of proof showing that this method isn’t effective, but there is a concern that little face-to-face communication could increase the number of diagnoses that are incorrect by the therapist. For this reason specifically, online counseling is not viewed as a good method for getting a diagnosis for clinical issues.
No Nonverbal Cues: Using verbal and nonverbal cues in therapy is really important when trying to figure out what the client is dealing with emotionally and also helps with pinpointing inconsistencies in behavior. Online counseling has been spoken of negatively for not having these crucial cues.
The traditional form of therapy uses these cues as the primary avenue of communication and uses it as a way to get a better insight on the patient and their behaviors. The online version of this doesn’t take into consideration body language, voice tone, eye contact or facial expression. To some, this is considered to severely cripple online counseling because the therapist can’t observe or interpret cues like this.
Therapist Credibility: One downfall to online counseling is not being able to fully know the qualification or credentials of the therapist you are talking to. There are many inexperienced counselors that could take advantage of this means of communication and end up hurting the client in the process.
Confidentiality: With online counseling, important information that has been exchanged could potentially be leaked or jeopardized, compromising the client’s confidentiality. While a lot of websites try to have systems in place to safeguard important and private information, it’s only as strong as the most recent security update. The upgrading of all technology is crucial to help prevent any kind of potential breaches of confidentiality.
Ethical Issues: Ethical and legal codes are going to get more and more important as online counseling grows in popularity. Anything online is able to get outside of international and state borders, so this creates a number of concerns for most people.
How is the quality of online counseling moderated if nobody knows exactly who is treating the clients? If there are suicidal threats or if there is an emergency, how can help be called for if nobody knows where the client is? These are big questions to ask as momentum continues to build.
Online counseling has a long way to go, but it is already proving to be an affordable and accessible alternative. The internet isn’t just for google searches and youtube videos anymore, it is a unique tool that is making therapy something that anyone can seek out.
Is Online Therapy Right For You?
Online therapy is a great tool for a lot of people, but it still isn’t for everyone. There are quite a few things you should think about before you pursue working with an online counselor.
Online therapy probably isn’t a good option for you if:
- You don’t have any privacy at home or you live in a house with a lot of other people.
- The thought of discussing private and personal things over a long distance instead of one on one communication doesn’t sit well with you.
- If you have a severe complex such as major depression, bipolar disorder or complex psychiatric disorder
- If you are thinking about injuring yourself or another person
- You have trouble with learning technology and don’t know your way around a phone or computer
Online therapy is a good option for you if:
- You are homebound and don’t have a solid means of transportation
- If you have technical skills and are comfortable using the internet
- You don’t have enough time in your schedule to take a few hours each week to make it to your therapy appointment
- If the nearest access to therapy is more than an hour away, or not easy to get to
- You feel comfortable sharing your thoughts and feelings with someone who isn’t in the room with you
- You are financially able to pay for an online therapist if insurance doesn’t cover traditional sessions