Online or face-to-face counselling: What is right for you?

The provision of online counselling has become much more common with counsellors offering counselling through platforms like Zoom or Teams, in this article I will explore the differences between online and face-to-face counselling and hope to help inform you on what choice is right for you.

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Online counselling can be a more accessible way to provide therapy; you do not need to travel and can be done in the comfort of your home. It can give you flexibility and save you time. If you have mobility issues, live some distance from a major conurbation, or lack access to transportation, then online sessions could seem like an attractive option. You might consider going online if you are struggling with overwhelming feelings of anxiety and have withdrawn yourself from going beyond your front door. It could ease some of the pressure you feel about facing your world while giving you some comfort that you are starting to get psychological help.

You will need the technology and an understanding of how to use it. A reliable and stable Wi-Fi connection is the number one requisite; without sufficient broadband speed, issues around interruption could impede your online counselling session. It might feel frustrating to not be heard, to be seen, or to see or hear your counsellor. You might be in the middle of disclosing something painful, and then you either experience some buffeting or even lose the connection. That is certainly not what you would want to experience.

Another important factor is to ensure you are in a safe and confidential space, free from interruption, and feel comfortable talking. You might need to consider how you manage and try to mitigate disruptions. If you have pets, like a cat or dog, will their needs disrupt you? You certainly would not want your cat to want to walk all over your computer or your dog to be barking for attention. What happens if you have a postal delivery during the counselling session? Is there someone else to answer your front door, or will you need to answer and disrupt your counselling session?

I have listed some practical issues, but what about the personal? If you are in a relationship, do you want your partner to know you are doing online counselling? You might need to consider where you do online counselling, and in some instances, the risk of interruption could be too great. Will you have a confidential space to work through what you would like to bring to counselling? Doing online counselling in your car might seem like an option; however, will your mobile device have a strong enough signal, enough data usage, and enough mobile charge? And how will it feel to sit in your car, parked somewhere, with potential passersby seeing you?

What about face-to-face counselling? Yes, you will have to travel to see your counsellor; however, you will be away from distractions and the familiar. What face-to-face counselling gives you straight away is more space; it will be free of any interruption, with no worries about broadband speed or reliability, and would help shield your counselling from being discovered by someone you would rather keep it secret from.

This space will be very clear. You will have time around the counselling session with your journey to and from counselling, which you could use to help with preparing for your counselling session, and afterwards, as I would describe it, time to prepare to re-enter your life. You cannot underestimate is the power of actually seeing your counsellor physically. For some issues, being in the same room as your counsellor could help you feel more able to talk about difficult and painful thoughts and feelings.

If you are feeling depressed and do not trust yourself to not take out your emotional anguish on yourself or those close to you, then being face-to-face with your counsellor might feel more beneficial than being online. Having a physical connection — being in the same room as your counsellor — will give you a deeper sense of human contact than anything online can ever do.

Feeling you are not alone in your struggle will be far stronger face-to-face, and the potential of being online could amplify feelings that you are further away from humanity. Making the effort to physically see your counsellor could add to the sense that you are starting to help yourself and that this could be a journey to heal yourself.

Some counsellors now offer a hybrid way of working, with face-to-face and online being a mix of counselling, enabling clients to have regular counselling, when before online there could have been gaps in seeing your counsellor if you could not attend face-to-face. Something to consider is whether you would rather start your counselling online or face-to-face. During the transition between the two, you will experience differences. If you are online, you will only ever be seen from the waist up and will only see the face and upper torso of your counsellor. When you move to face-to-face counselling, the physical presence of yourself and your counsellor will be fully visible.

I am not trying to influence your choice of whether online or face-to-face counselling would be right for you; either way of accessing counselling has its merits. Online counselling might feel suitable if you cannot see any other way of accessing it, while face-to-face counselling will give you some physical distance from your daily life and might be safer if you do not want someone close to you to know you could be talking about them.

If you are experiencing anxieties that make you withdraw, online counselling might feel like a more accessible way of getting help, however, to fully work through your anxieties, you will need at some point to consider how you are going to face the physical world. Face-to-face counselling could act as a bridge towards helping you face that world.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Leamington Spa CV31 & Kenilworth CV8
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Written by Lee Allen, Registered Member MBACP
Leamington Spa CV31 & Kenilworth CV8

I am a Person Centred Counsellor and Psychotherapist, with over twenty years experience in private practice. I see adults, couples and young people from the age of sixteen. Some of the issues I work with include abuse, bereavement, depression, anxiety, stress, relationship difficulties, work-related issues and low self-esteem.

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