The surprising success of online email counselling
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Claire Mcritchie Registered Member BACP (Accred). PGDip.
26th October, 20150 Comments
Anyone considering counselling will often have undergone a prolonged period of consideration before making a final decision. This process can last a week, months or sometimes years. Counselling is not something that anyone undertakes lightly. Once the decision is made there is then the question of which approach is best, thankfully websites such as Counselling Directory allow you to research the different approaches before making contact with a counsellor.
There is now another consideration: how do you want your counselling delivered? In the past it was not debated; sessions were always face-to-face which meant finding time in busy schedules, arranging time off work, or making childcare arrangements, and factoring travel-time, rush hour and time spent with loved ones. But over the years the delivery of counselling has undergone a change with more and more people accessing online, email or telephone counselling – and so there is another consideration when thinking about counselling: does online or telephone delivery work and if so how does it work?
There have been many research projects into the effectiveness of online counselling and the majority of research suggests that online counselling or virtual counselling is just as effective as face-to-face.
In fact in 2013 The University of Zurich concluded that online counselling was more effective than face-to-face with more online patients finishing online therapy depression free than those sitting in face-to-face therapy.
Accessible to everyone everywhere:
The far wider appeal is for anyone who finds the idea of sitting in a therapists office to be distressing, anxiety provoking or even stigmatising – it is of particular interest to those occupying middle management roles who want to keep their counselling private – sometimes wanting to remain anonymous.
Online counselling is particularly useful for:
- People suffering from anxiety or depression who do not want face-to-face sessions, but do want support.
- Expats seeking counselling in countries where their native language is not spoke.
- Those who feel they would benefit from counselling but are resistant to walking into a therapists office.
- Those who cannot afford the time required to travel to and from a counsellors base.
- People suffering from agoraphobia or illness that prevents them leaving the home.
The power of the written word
Online counselling is delivered in several ways:
Skype/video: As it sounds sessions will be conducted via video link. The session length will be the same as face-to-face, and time has to be set-aside to allow for this. Consideration as to time delays, or video ‘freezing’ should be given – but overall Skype/video sessions are as successful as face-to-face sessions.
Telephone: Again time has to be set aside for a telephone session, conversation is often smoother than Skype/video, but again the effects and success can be just as successful as face-to-face.
The benefits of email counselling:
Email counselling also allows more control over when your ‘session’ is held. In fact there is no session. When you choose email counselling you choose when to make contact. You can send your email any time, day or night. You not constricted by the restraints of a face-to-face appointment. They send their email when they choose and wait for the therapeutic response.
You choose when you want to make contact. Email counselling has been successful for people experiencing anxiety or depression. You can write your thoughts, feelings, experiences when you feel them – therefore allowing the counsellor to also experience a little of what you feel. This is not normally something that happens in face-to-face sessions, often people experience an attack of anxiety or depression days before their therapy session – by the time they are relaying the experience the raw emotions have passed by.
The therapeutic response is another benefit for email sessions: it is written down and you can refer to it whenever you want.
You also have time to reflect on your feelings, on your thoughts and on your responses to any questions asked, something not afforded in face-to-face sessions, which can feel demanding for some.
A considered and reflective response
There is a benefit to the therapist as well; it is a luxury to have the time to reflect on a clients words. Often a counsellor will read an email three of four times before responding and time is also allowed to reflect and consider your experiences more in-depth before sending a response.
It is the tone and words used that form the basis of therapeutic intervention and support – and this can be achieved very easily through Email.
Therapy at a reduced cost
Email counselling carries little overheads and so it can be offered at a reduced rate making it more accessible.
What can sometimes take two or three weeks to cover in face-to-face sessions is often addressed in one email, meaning that the overall number of sessions required is reduced; reducing the cost of therapy.
Does it work for everyone?
People who choose email counselling have either requested it or have chosen it after discussing the other options available and so are often already invested in the process. So, for these clients success can be swifter. Online counselling, and in particular, email counselling, despite its perceived distance, can be more effective and provide swifter result than face to face.
For the counsellor it is a case of working in a way we feel comfortable and online is not for everyone. But the research has shown it to be surprisingly successful and it makes therapy accessible to many more people, which cannot be a bad thing.
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Michael O'Rourke MBACP Counsellor/TherapistApril 17th, 2017
Andrea Harrn Psychotherapist and Author of The Mood CardsMay 13th, 2011
Imi Lo: Psychotherapist, Art Therapist, Supervisor (MMH,UKCP,HCPC,MBPsS)March 29th, 2015
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