Online or face-to-face: why choose online counselling?
What do some clients choose to see an online counsellor? Is it the convenience of not having to make arrangements to keep an appointment, or because there’s a written record of the work which can be read again and again? Or are there other reasons why working online might be more attractive to some people than others?
Why do some people choose to work online with a counsellor they don’t meet?
What is Online Counselling?
When you work online with a counsellor or e-therapist (ideally with someone who has undertaken specialist training to offer this service) you work from your computer using the internet. You don’t meet face to face as online counselling is generally done by text (either email or live text chat). So you type about how you feel instead of talking about it.
Some therapists will offer pure online counselling where you don’t meet the therapist face to face at all, while others may add it to their face to face practice for the purposes of administration (e.g. scheduling or re-scheduling sessions) or for extra support between sessions.
It usually begins when a client chooses an online counsellor from a directory (like this one) or from a website and sends them an email. You will probably have chosen your counsellor because you feel comfortable with the way they write about themselves and the way they work.
The online counsellor will generally reply with further information about how you could work together, often including an agreement to complete and sometimes asking for some specific background information (pre-counselling questionnaire) as well. During these early, non-therapeutic emails you are building the working relationship that will support the online counselling and it’s important you ask questions and seek clarification for anything that isn’t clear to you.
You don’t need to be a technology expert or a whizz typist to try online therapy, you just need a computer, access to the internet and some privacy to write and read your emails or messages.
Online counselling is convenient
Online counselling takes place wherever the person and their computer happen to be, regardless of whether it’s a live session or email. Increasingly I am in contact with clients who are sending from their mobile phones and I can see this becoming a bigger development area the more sophisticated mobile phone technology becomes.
Geographical location is also important for different reasons. Some people travel about a lot and find it difficult to get to a fixed location for an appointment regularly, others work shifts which can interfere with regular appointments. Cutting out the journey time to and from a counselling appointment can make a difference for people who have to make complex care arrangements in order to receive counselling help.
In addition, online counselling by email adapts to individual lifestyles and can be fitted more conveniently around family and work life. Clients have said they prefer to do their writing at times which suit them rather than keep to a scheduled appointment. You can do it when best suits you and from the comfort of your own home.
Email Counselling is flexible
Emails give you time to pause, take breaks, think about your answers and include everything you want to cover. They can also be written at a time that’s convenient for you. Some clients have found it helpful to send several short emails in a week, writing them when it’s convenient for them, knowing that there will be a response on an agreed day.
Online counselling is something that fits much better into daily life than face to face counselling, as you do not need to find the time or the energy for a long session on a regular basis; the work can be done in short bursts which fit around your own routine.
Some people find it difficult to say all they want to say in a face to face session. It can be too tiring, or they forget what they had intended to say. Another advantage that I find for online counselling is that a lot of ground can be covered in a short period of time because one doesn’t have to rely on one’s memory - one can form what one wants to say over several days consideration.
When working with a face to face counsellor you have to rely solely on what comes to mind in that instance and you may often forget the most important details- only to remember them after the session.
Online counselling provides a record of what's been discussed
A record of the work can be useful. Re-reading can clarify things, remind you of what’s been discussed and of any tasks you might have agreed to do. The record can also measure your progress. Emails build into a record in your Mailbox and complete transcripts of live sessions can also be saved and stored on your computer.
Most online counsellors will offer you suggestions about safe storage of emails and session transcripts if you share your computer. The record itself can show how progress is made or remind you of what else you wanted to cover. The big one that stands out to me is that you are able to re-read responses and can think about what you want to say the next time.
Online Counselling can feel safer than speaking.
For some people communicating by writing is easier than speaking and the anonymity of the internet seems to help them. When clients don’t feel the watchful eye of the counsellor on them, this helps them to be more frank and open.
Writing about feelings can also separate thoughts out, making them safer to deal with in smaller, separated chunks. The action of putting thoughts into words via the computer keyboard is a powerful step towards standing back and examining things more closely, from a new perspective.
Some people find that the written words aren’t as threatening as when they are thoughts that go round and round in their heads. Somehow seeing something written, and the process of writing, means that you get something out and it stays out permanently (almost in a literal way) and that once it is out it is no longer part of you.
Online Counselling may feed more 'equal'
Some clients find an online counsellor is less of an authority figure than they expected and this allows them to take an equal share of responsibility for the work.
Deafness, stuttering, being in a wheelchair or other disabilities which are apparent in a face to face setting do not intrude into online work unless you choose to focus on them specifically.
So the reasons why some clients choose online counselling are its convenience, flexibility and written record. Also, it can be safer and more equal than working face to face. From these answers I think that online clients have good reasons for choosing online counselling - it is not just an alternative to face to face; for some, it is their preferred option.