Online and telephone counselling
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Online and Telephone Support
Just under 90% of counsellors and psychotherapists registered on Counselling Directory now offer online, email or telephone counselling services1.
Whilst face to face counselling is currently the most popular and conventional medium of treatment, there are a huge number of factors that may mean receiving counselling by way of another communication channel could be a more appropriate option for you.
Online, email and telephone counselling offer individuals the same level of support and confidentiality as that of meeting face to face with a qualified counsellor or psychotherapist, but in addition can also offer suitable solutions to some of the difficulties associated with receiving treatment in a traditional therapeutic setting:
- Accessibility - Counselling slots can become full. This is especially true for appointments that are in high demand such as those in the evening and late at night. Online and telephone counsellors however, are more likely to be able to offer a higher level of flexibility - therefore reducing the waiting time for treatment and making it more accessible.
- Affordability - Reduced overheads such as not having to rent a private counselling space may mean that some counsellors are able to offer online, email or telephone counselling at a reduced rate.
- Anonymity - If you are concerned about the stigma attached to mental health problems or you are worried that someone may find you are having treatment - online and telephone counselling services offer the client a higher level of privacy as well as leaving them the option to remain anonymous.
- Convenience - These services mean that you are able to receive support from the comfort of your own home, or wherever it is that you are - a hugely beneficial aspect for the following individuals in particular:
- Housebound and/or disabled individuals.
- Carers who are unable to take a break from their responsibilities even for a short time.
- Parents who can't afford childcare.
- Employee's who travel frequently or are too busy to commit to regular face to face appointments.
- People living in remote areas who are far from a therapist's office.
- Hearing impaired - instant chat and email counselling mean that an interpreter will not be required.
- Flexibility - A reduced crossover period between clients in combination with a series of additional factors often mean that these services can be offered at more flexible times than face to face counselling.
Whilst the idea of telephone and online counselling have been around for some years, recent progressions in Internet and mobile phone technology have now resulted in a growing movement towards that of online and telephone counselling services.
Whilst up until relatively recently both the Internet and mobile phones used to be luxuries to a few, they are now fundamental components of everyday life for millions. According to the Office of National Statistics, 22 million households in the UK are now connected to the Internet, while access to the Internet using a mobile phone rose to 58% in 20142.
With so many people now online on a daily basis, either for leisure or work - Internet counselling and telephone counselling are ideal alternative solutions to many of the obstacles that some individuals face when attempting to seek face to face counselling, and ultimately, they are methods which can be used to reach people who wouldn't get help any other way.
Are online, telephone and email counselling effective?
Though there are a number of experts who believe that the validity and efficacy of online and telephone counselling is not as strong as that of counselling in a traditional setting, there is mounting evidence to suggest that the outcome of these methods is at least equal to that of face to face counselling.
For example, leading medical journal The Lancet previously published a study validating claims that online cognitive behavioural therapy is just as effective in treating depression as that of traditional face to face therapy3.
There is also a growing body of supporting evidence suggesting that the effects of telephone counselling parallel those of face to face methods. A 2002 study published in the Journal of Counselling and Psychology revealed that counselling clients rate their relationship with their therapist very similarly to in-person clients4. In addition, telephone counselling has also been recognised an effective treatment for depression.
Simply explained, online counselling is any form of counselling that is conducted over the internet. This could be via an exchange of a series of emails, or it could be over an instant chat messenger that allows the counsellor to talk to their client in real time.
Whatever mode of Internet communication is used, online counselling is an ideal way for many individuals to seek confidential and professional support if for whatever reason; they cannot undergo treatment in a traditional face to face setting.
Email counselling is a form of online counselling that allows a client to work with a qualified online counsellor or psychotherapist via an email exchange. The process involves the client typing out their problems and concerns in an email, and the counsellor taking the time to read the email before replying with a considered therapeutic response.
Writing down whatever it is that may be clouding our minds can be an extremely effective way of processing negative emotions. Putting pen to paper, or in this case, hand to keyboard - is an ideal way for individuals who do not feel comfortable speaking about their problems to express themselves.
Because emails can be written at any time over a continued period and the client is in control of determining the timing on their side of the contract - they have the freedom to document what is on their mind as it occurs, rather than waiting several days for a face to face counselling session.
Just knowing that there is someone there to receive, acknowledge and respond to your problems without judgement can provide an enormous sense of comfort and support to anyone attempting to overcome a difficult period in their life.How does email counselling work?
As mentioned above, email counselling will revolve around a series of email exchanges between the online counsellor and client. However, before the therapy itself commences you will need to clarify the following details, usually during a few initial email exchanges:
- The client's reason for seeking counselling and the issues that need to be addressed.
- Some background information about the client.
- Guidelines on how many times the client is able to email the counsellor.
- The time frame in which the client can expect to receive a response.
- Fees - what is the cost of each email exchange?
- Privacy and confidentially policy.
- Cancellation policy.
If you are unsure as to whether email counselling is a suitable option for you, the best thing to do is to get in touch with a counsellor to discuss your concerns. Initiating contact does not mean you are obligated to proceed.
Online chat counselling
This form of counselling is carried out at a pre-arranged time using an instant chat messenger, allowing clients to receive an instant 'real time' response.
Whilst email counselling is hugely beneficial in many ways, the instant feedback obtained from online chat counselling can be comforting for clients who wish to interact and respond with their therapist immediately.
Similarly to that of email counselling, online chat counselling is often more accessible and convenient than that of face to face counselling, and it also gives the client the option of remaining anonymous.How does online chat counselling work?
If you have decided that online chat counselling is an avenue you would like to explore, get in touch with your chosen counsellor to arrange a mutually convenient time for you to "meet" online.
At the designated time slot the counsellor and client will both log on to a predetermined chat room (which will be secure and confidential), so that they can exchange instant messages for the agreed length of the session.
As with all forms of counselling, certain details will need to be confirmed before the online counselling begins. This may be done over the phone, via email or using the instant messenger. Whatever mode of communication the client should ensure they have spoken to their counsellor about why they are seeking help, how many sessions they may need, cost, privacy and the cancellation policy.
An increasingly popular option for those who can't make face-to-face counselling sessions is Skype counselling. Skype is a computer program that enables you to video chat in real time with other people over the Internet. The software itself is free and is easy to download. If your computer doesn't have a webcam or microphone, you will have to purchase these too, however they are relatively inexpensive.
The beauty of Skype is that you are able to physically see your counsellor, a factor that people often miss during email or telephone counselling. Just like these other methods however, Skype counselling allows you to attend a session from the comfort of your own home and you can talk to a counsellor from anywhere in the world.How does Skype counselling work?
Usually you will contact a counsellor via email or telephone in the first instance to arrange an initial consultation. Together you will plan a suitable time for you to "meet" and discuss what you are seeking help with.
Before your first session you may want to ensure you are alone and won't be disturbed. It is also a good idea to make yourself comfortable and check you have good Internet connection before you start.
During your initial consultation you can check that the technology is working correctly and that you feel comfortable receiving counselling in this way. This is also your opportunity to get to know your counsellor and ensure that you are happy with their style of working.
In terms of payment, your counsellor may ask you to pay via a secure online payment before the session, or they may ask for credit card details at the end of your session. It is important to keep personal details safe, so ensure all payments are carried out in a safe and secure manner.
Do I need to be computer literate to have online counselling?
Whilst of course individuals who are looking to pursue the option of online counselling will need some basic computer skills, you do not need to be a technical genius to make email or instant chat counselling work for you.
The vast majority of counsellors who do offer these services will be able to provide a step-by-step simple approach to getting started.
Telephone counselling works in the same way as that as face to face counselling but is conducted over the telephone. Some counsellors may offer this as an additional avenue of support between face to face counselling sessions, and others may focus solely on conducting the counselling over the phone.
Telephone counselling is free of many of the constraints that come hand in hand with face to face counselling, subsequently making therapy more accessible to those who are unable to receive counselling or psychotherapy in a traditional setting.How does telephone counselling work?
The first step is simply for the client to telephone the counsellor so that a brief discussion can be had about their problem. If the counsellor then feels that telephone counselling is going to be an appropriate method for treatment a session can then be booked in for a time that is convenient for you.
During the initial telephone call the counsellor will take the opportunity to discuss the areas that need to be addressed, to find out some background information about the client, and to recommend and agree the number of counselling sessions that will be needed.
The counsellor will also usually outline their confidentiality policy as well as general information such as cancellation policy.
1 Percentage based upon the number of Counselling Directory members at the close of business on 12/02/15.
2 Office for National Statistics (2014) Internet Access - Households and Individuals, 2014.
3 The Lancet (2009) Therapist-delivered Internet psychotherapy for depression in primary care: a randomised controlled trial
4 Mallen, J, M. (2005) Online Counseling, Reviewing Literature From a Counseling Psychology Framework, The Counseling Psychologist