Could Online Counselling help men access psychological support?
Rochlen, Zack and Speyer’s (2004) state, in their 2004 article; that “The integration of technology with the practice of psychotherapy has arguably been one of the most vigorously debated topics among mental health professionals within the last 15 years” (Rochlen, Zack and Speyer, 2004). Their article points out, however, that whilst the debate about the ethical considerations, the potential benefits, the challenges and the regulation of training in relation to on-line counselling has been widespread, there is currently a general shortage in the research into this area.
Before launching into the suggestions for further research Rochlen et al. (2004) point out the usefulness of breaking down online therapy into a number of separate areas. They point to the work of Hill and Williams (2000) who have broken down face-to face therapy into three components, these are: input variables, process and outcomes. The areas of process and outcome are fairly self-explanatory (they clearly focus on the process of the therapy itself, i.e. feelings, thoughts, interventions etc that were present in the sessions; and then the outcome of the treatment, i.e. Changes that occurred as a direct or indirect result of the therapy), the input variables are slightly more complicated. Hill and Williams (2000) explain input variables as referring to the traits and make up of the client, the therapist and the setting for therapy. Attitudes towards the therapy are specifically identified as a significant input variable, yet there has so far been very little research done into the attitudes people have towards on-line therapy.
However, researchers such as Fischer & Farina (1995) have carried out studies into the cultural, demographic and psychological variables that effect individual’s general attitude to help-seeking.
It appears clear from the literature around help-seeking that men have considerable difficulty in seeking psychological help. It seems that fears about not being in control, being vulnerable, being perceived as weak or being perceived of as ‘unmanly’ in some way are significant barriers to men seeking support.
The practicalities of on-line counselling may go some way to alleviating some of these barriers. Anonymity and privacy is easier to guarantee as it is possible that the therapist will never know exactly who his/her client is, this protects the clients and also allows the client more control over what and how they choose to share information. Clients are also not physically in the room with their therapist meaning they are more able to pull back or discontinue a session if feeling vulnerable, the physical distance and lack of human contact may also decrease feelings of vulnerability. There may be no set time or place in which the therapy takes place which once again adds to the clients control. It may also be easier to keep on-line counselling secret from others, this give clients some relief as if others don’t know they are receiving therapy, they cannot judge them for it. It is therefore hypothesised that whilst men’s attitude to seeking face-to-face counselling is somewhat negative, on-line counselling may a-lay some of the fears they connect with seeking psychological help, and their attitudes and opinions towards on-line counselling may be more positive and may prove helpful to men who traditional struggle to access psychological support.
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