The evolution of counselling: Working online
The growth of online counselling provision has been evolving at an alarmingly high rate in recent years. Undoubtedly, the arrival of COVID-19 has been a catalyst for the phenomenon that is ‘working online’. Many would now say that online work has become their new norm.
The growth of online counselling
The concept of e-therapy actually began back in 1986 with the creation of 'Dear Uncle Ezra', a Cornell University forum where people could discuss mental health issues. The identity of Uncle Ezra to this day remains a mystery to most of us, but the suggestion is that it was a member of staff with a background in mental health work.
I will be honest with you; I did not even have access to a computer back at this date. My first memory of surfing the net was in the early 2000s and I certainly recall it all being very slow. But times have changed and in recent years we have witnessed the evolution of online counselling. Simply enter ‘online therapy’ into any search engine and within seconds you will be presented with a stream of sites and adverts. It is almost mind-boggling that so many options exist, possibly making it even more challenging to find the right therapist for you.
My own journey into counselling did not entertain online training, it was pre-COVID-19. I elected to embark on additional learning with the vision of feeling able to work online with clients, both effectively and safely. I am confident that many who have undergone training in recent years have been forced to complete a large degree of skills practice using online facilities. The generation of Zoom students has now made their way into the counselling platform.
A recent publication from The Office for National Statistics revealed that depression rates have doubled since the COVID-19 pandemic began. This hike in numbers of individuals experiencing anxiety and depression is evidence that there is space for all counsellors, whether they work on a face-to-face basis or indeed as an online practitioner.
Like many other counsellors, I now define myself as working in a blended manner ie: combining face-to-face work with online work. I love both and at the current time, they both hold so much value to me as a counsellor. My online work was my survival tool economically from COVID- 19, I was safe and so were my clients.
Recently I have set up an online counselling cabin in my back garden at home in North Devon. I have no doubt that these little pods have been popping up in back gardens all over the country since 2020. Cabins are ideal as they do not require planning permission and the financial outlay is relatively low compared to that of alternative building structures. I had lots of help in the pod’s evolution. (Thank you, B. If you are reading this article you’ve supported me create something truly wonderful not just for myself but for the clients who enter the space virtually).
Working from home: Finding the balance
Working from home brings about both joy and pain. As humans, we can lose an element of privacy and personal space when we work from home. Equally, it can often enlarge a sense of isolation, and loneliness and reduce physical human contact. Let’s be honest, we all need a regular burst of Oxytocin in our system. When working at home there is often background sounds of doors opening, closing or chatter in the distance. The cabin has turned into a bit of a counselling haven for me. It effectively separates my workspace from my home living space.
If you are considering going down a similar route, remember to explore what options are available to you both as a counsellor and a client. Consider what times home is peaceful, and consider your own personal well-being. Do some days of the week feel heavier than others? All these aspects inform the effectiveness of the experience for both the counsellor and the client.
The effectiveness of online counselling
There are many who would still question both the validity and potency of online counselling. From my working experience it absolutely works, a vision which undoubtedly needs to be jointly felt by both parties.
I feel able to hold the same safe space for clients when working online as I do within the face-to-face setting. Empathy still flows through me; I feel it in every part of my being. I notice, observe, reflect and deploy all the same therapeutic conditions which exist within my face-to-face work. Online clients have shared with me moments of transformation, an awareness of movement and growth. Most importantly, a huge empowering sense of being heard and understood still remains regardless of the platform for counselling.
Carl Rogers eloquently developed the concept behind the six necessary and sufficient conditions for therapeutic personality change. The nuance of which is enabling the client to feel connected, heard, truly seen and accepted unconditionally, in a very authentic manner.
Are all of these conditions transferable to the online platform? It is both my belief and working experience which leads me to say ‘yes, they are indeed transferable’.
I continue to learn and grow as a counselling practitioner whilst developing my online skills simultaneously. My metaphoric online toolkit has without question grown. I am fortunate to access two sources of supervision, both of which are conducted online and both of which are absolutely fantastic.
My 'Counselling Cabin' transports me not only all over the country but in fact the whole world from my back garden in North Devon. How absolutely joyous this experience proves to be.
Yes, the online counsellor is evolving. The world is changing and I for one am comfortable embracing this change.