Online counselling experience
Now is the time to consider online therapy and counselling more seriously. The immediate advantage of talking to a counsellor online is the ease of access while you reach out from home or work. You can also communicate with therapists, outside your local area who may have specialist training and expertise, without you having to travel. And for some people who wish to explore what counselling is like, online counselling allows you to contact a therapist at your own convenience. It’s a way of putting time aside to seek someone who you feel comfortable with. A counsellor, of your own choosing, you can trust and rely on.
Benefits of online therapy
Social distancing has required all therapists to change their methods of clinical practice. Online counselling transforms the way we work in a more inclusive and collaborative way. While face-to-face contact undoubtedly has many advantages in terms of the feel of human contact, physical proximity and body language, it may be a risk you’re unwilling to take right now. However, being able to see someone’s face and listen to the resonance of their voice, still remains part of the online experience.
You may have some valid questions you want to ask your therapist about the way they practice online. Don’t be afraid to make enquiries and ask questions. There are of course both advantages and disadvantages to online counselling. I will try to answer some of those questions from my own perspective and experience, as well as provide some objective points for you to consider.
From my own perspective, as a counsellor in a time of social distancing, I have found online counselling a very positive experience. There are a variety of platforms you can use: such as counselling on Skype, Zoom and even email. And there are certain advantages to online therapy: such as, being open to a more interactive, collaborative style of counselling. Access to online resources improves a client’s independence and self-sufficiency. Online therapy can also enhance how much you are prepared to engage and commit to the process.
Other therapists will no doubt have learned new communication skills and developed new ways of connecting with their clients. By offering online counselling to vulnerable clients who are socially isolated, we provide a lifeline for people in need of human contact. For example, key workers with variable shift patterns, medics, single parents, elderly people and those who work in the nighttime economy. Anyone working in this sector may have very few options to voice their problems and concerns with. If you’re working under stressful conditions, you may not want to unload onto family members, who are also struggling. An online therapist is an impartial confidant who you can turn to with your problems.
It is therefore vital for therapists to find a human way of reaching out online. They need to be approachable and easy to talk to, whilst listening attentively to their client. The ability to listen openly to a client's story is essential for online practitioners, as a way of demonstrating empathy and building rapport. This means showing an interest in what clients are saying, and being curious, while encouraging them to connect to their own thoughts and emotions. It also means reflecting back what they have heard, offering helpful feedback and providing solutions that are realistic without being judgemental.
Online therapy at its best, seeks to provide a safe place where an ongoing process of change, progress and review can take place. Like many therapists, I have long been dedicated to interacting with people in a variety of social settings.
Teaching and supervising groups in the workplace has meant developing an inclusive and collaborative approach, by relating to people as adults. This encourages clients to take charge of their own process: by building self-awareness and independence. As a therapist, you can also take advantage of online resources, podcasts, videos and research tools as a way of empowering clients, who may feel vulnerable and alone.
Over the years, I have learned the value of collaboration, using a client-led approach from managing groups of people in private and public corporations. As a client, it is important that you feel a sense of ownership over your own progress, leading from the front. No amount of guidance, solutions, or exercises are going to help you improve your mental health, unless you’re fully engaged. Each person is different, so when I offer online resources and mindfulness as a way forward, a client must learn to adapt these techniques to their own needs.
Online counselling will bring a much more diverse group of people seeking help, so as therapists we need to draw on our own ‘worldly’ experiences to build a rapport with clients. As well as psychology, I studied as an anthropologist and lived among tribal people. This has given me an insight into the diversity of human experience, and how different cultures and religions mould people’s identities and personalities.
During online therapy, it is vital to let clients be imaginative, playful and experimental in their approach to recovery. Learning self-awareness and ‘approach behaviours’ is the key to human resilience and can help people experiencing anxiety, depression or stress. The inner child learns how to experiment, problem-solve and adapt to the world through play. It remains a positive aspect of lived experience for adults who are otherwise loaded down with everyday stress and responsibilities.
Disadvantages of online therapy
There are of course some disadvantages to online therapy that you need to be aware of. When you don’t meet a counsellor face-to-face it is a little more difficult to know if they are accountable to valid legal and clinical regulations. So it is vital to make sure that your counsellor provides you with information in a transparent way. You want to ensure that your counsellor is fully qualified, registered with a professional organization like the UKCP or BACP and they attend regular supervision. Most counsellors will be willing to direct you to websites on which they feature with their professional credentials, accessible and open to the public.
Other disadvantages in online counselling are that it is sometimes difficult to establish a connection with someone who is on a screen at a distance. Without that close physical proximity of another person in the room, it is difficult to attune to body language and non-verbal communication in the same way. So for those of you who need human contact it is important to find a therapist who is willing to be interactive.
Finding a therapist
Apart from these relevant considerations, you need to adopt a spirit of openness and curiosity. Go find your therapist and read their website profiles, research their interests and read any articles they have written. See if the way a counsellor presents themselves feels human and authentic. Then phone, or Skype them to have a brief conversation. Use your gut instinct to feel if the therapist suits your way of engaging with people. To my mind, the single most important factor in the success of counselling and recovery is the quality of the relationship between you and your therapist. So, be bold and enjoy your journey.
To search for a therapist use the Counselling Directory search tool where you can read therapist’s profiles and contact them via email or phone.
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