Online counselling - is it for you?
Like it or not (and most of us do), the internet and all its possibilities are here to stay. Even a technophobe like me would be lost without the ability to communicate quickly and easily with friends and clients, or to use Google to give me information that before, would have taken days or weeks to gather. It is therefore not surprising that for some people, the option of 'seeing' a counsellor online is an attractive proposition.
There are still many counsellors (and until recently I was one of them), who are very wary of the idea that online counselling can provide the sort of space where a relationship can grow and a client can feel held and heard. It is certainly true that some of the cues that the counsellor and client rely on in face to face work, are not present in any form of online counselling. But working at a distance can be a much more comfortable experience for some people, than sitting in a room with another person.
Obviously the convenience of being able to be counselled without leaving home is one factor that might influence the choice. Accessibility is another. Anyone with a disability, which restricts their ability to travel or someone living in a remote part of the country, might find face to face counselling impossible to manage.
For others, the distance between themselves and their counsellor is the most attractive aspect of online work and might encourage some people, who would find speaking face to face impossibly painful, to seek help from a counsellor.
There are many forms of online counselling. Text based approaches using email or some form of instant messaging, provide a different way of thinking and communicating problems and distress. These both give more time for counsellor and client to reflect on what they want to say and provide a written record of the session which can be used afterwards. This can be really helpful for people who, for a variety of reasons, find that a session can feel 'too fast' or have trouble remembering what was said afterwards.
Before I trained to do online work, I found it hard to believe that it would be possible to form the sort of secure relationship needed, before it is safe to share one's innermost fears and feelings. Now, however, I know that just as with face to face counselling, if both the client and counsellor are truly committed to the work, then the relationship can be as deep and fulfilling as it is in more 'conventional' counselling.
Online counselling is not for everyone and if you are thinking of trying it, I would advise you to find a counsellor who has trained in online work and who can advise you on both the advantages and potential pitfalls of working at a distance. As with all counselling, it is important to find the right approach and the right person to help you explore and hopefully resolve the challenges that have led to you considering counselling in the first place.
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About Susan Arnold
I have been a counsellor for over 20 years and in that time have worked in a variety of settings with many different people to whom I am indebted for their willingness to share their experiences with me. I have recently undertaken a training in Online Counselling because I believe that as counsellors we should always be open to new learning.