5 benefits of email therapy
Working with a counsellor through email may not be the first thing you would consider when seeking help, but there are some interesting benefits worth considering.
Personally, I find that the reflective process of reading and carefully considering responses can be a healing and welcome change from the immediacy of conversation. This type of counselling is most certainly not for everyone, but for some, it might be their perfect fit.
Here are 5 benefits to counselling through email exchanges for you to consider.
1. It meets a client where they are
Technology play such a huge role in many people’s lives. So much so that some people are now more comfortable expressing themselves online. The idea of going into a room with a counsellor might cause too much anxiety to attend. Equally, someone might struggle with expressing themselves verbally, but find themselves much more articulate when writing.
It is our job as counsellors to create a safe space that feels welcome for clients to show up fully, and email is a way to bridge the gap for those whom face-to-face is too daunting.
2. The ‘speaking’ exchanges are equal
I’ve heard it many times at the end of a session, “I feel like I’ve just talked for an hour straight,” a client will say. To me, this is simultaneously an acknowledgement of a client’s gratitude for the space to be uninterrupted, and an invitation to communicate more collaboratively in the future. The therapist cannot use non-verbal communication via email, such as nodding and leaning forward encouragingly, they can only communicate with written language for the client to get a sense of their empathy and understanding.
Through email, there is more space for the therapist to communicate their perspectives more thoroughly, and where appropriate, share theories, models, and personal experiences that may be insightful for the client’s growth.
3. It can be useful for people with dyslexia and other neuro-diversities
Typical traits of neurodiverse people beyond spelling issues are struggling to find the right words to express themselves verbally and difficulties with short-term memory processing.
Email therapy slows the process down, giving more time for clients to find the right words to match their thoughts and feelings. Having a permanent record of the therapist’s responses can help a client with short-term memory difficulties to remember everything that happened. It can enable clients to better integrate their experiences of counselling, at their own pace.
In the case of people with dyslexia, having a safe and accepting space to explore written communication can be a powerful and transformative opportunity to re-write negative beliefs and low self-esteem around their ability to write and express themselves.
4. The research suggests writing and email therapy is effective
Both online and face-to-face therapy have a similar effect in helping people to feel better. Also, there seem to be no significant differences between how instant messaging and email therapy work.
In one study that looked at the process of therapeutic writing, confronting traumatic experiences by writing them down and having them read by a therapist not only had psychological benefits, but also significant positive effects on people’s immune system functioning.
5. Time and structure are more flexible
Email counselling offers a great deal of flexibility for the client. They can write responses whenever is convenient, as opposed to committing to a time and day each week, as is often the case with face-to-face sessions.
This can be especially useful for people with busy lives. Unconfined by the 50-minute face-to-face session, clients may spend longer engaging in the therapeutic process by reflecting and writing responses over several days. This can create a sense of depth to the counselling, knowing that somewhere in the world the therapist will be reading the emails, reflecting on them and responding.
- Dunn, K. (2012). A qualitative investigation into the online counselling relationship: To meet or not to meet, that is the question. Counselling and Psychotherapy Research, 12(4), 316-326.
- Kjersten, J. (2017). Understanding and working with dyslexia in individual and couple therapy: Implications for counsellors and psychotherapists. New Zealand Journal of Counselling, 37(1).
- Barak, A., Hen, L., Boniel-Nissim, M., & Shapira, N. A. (2008). A comprehensive review and a meta-analysis of the effectiveness of internet-based psychotherapeutic interventions. Journal of Technology in Human Services, 26(2-4), 109-160
- Pennebaker, J. W., Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K., & Glaser, R. (1988). Disclosure of traumas and immune function: health implications for psychotherapy. Journal of consulting and clinical psychology, 56(2), 239.
- Mishna, F., Bogo, M., & Sawyer, J. L. (2015). Cybercounseling: Illuminating benefits and challenges. Clinical Social Work Journal, 43(2), 169-178.
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