Online counselling

Written by Ellen Lees
Ellen Lees
Counselling Directory Content Team

Simply put, online therapy (also referred to as online counselling) is any form of counselling that is conducted over the Internet. This could be via email, or via a messaging service/video chat that allows the counsellor to talk to the client in real-time.

Whatever mode of Internet communication is used, online counselling is an ideal way for many individuals to seek confidential and professional support.

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What's worrying you?

What is online therapy?

Psychotherapist Sarah Wooster explains the benefits of online counselling, how it differs from face-to-face therapy and how to find a therapist who is right for you. 

Is online therapy effective?

While some experts believe the efficacy of online therapy is not as strong as face-to-face, there is mounting evidence to suggest that the outcome of these methods is at least equal to the effects of traditional counselling. Leading medical journal The Lancet, previously published a study validating claims that online cognitive behavioural therapy is just as effective in treating depression as traditional therapy. In addition, telephone counselling has also been recognised as an effective treatment for depression.

Remember to give your telephone and online sessions time. Like face-to-face counselling, it can take a while to adapt to the process and for you and your therapist to develop a rapport with each other... The most important thing is that you have reached out for help, and are giving yourself access to resources that can help you to achieve the changes you are looking for.

- Rebecca Morgan, Four tips for getting the most out of online and telephone counselling.

Video counselling

An increasingly popular option for those who can't make face-to-face counselling sessions is video conference/chat counselling. This enables you to video chat in real-time with other people over the Internet. There are several programmes and apps you can use for this. If your computer doesn't have a webcam or microphone, you will have to purchase these too, however, they are relatively inexpensive.

The beauty of this approach is that you’re able to see your counsellor - a factor that people often miss during email or telephone counselling. Just like these other methods, video chat counselling allows you to attend a session from the comfort of your own home and you can talk to a counsellor from anywhere in the world.

How does video chat counselling work? 

Usually, you will contact a counsellor via email or telephone in the first instance to arrange an initial consultation. Together you will plan a suitable time for sessions and discuss why you are seeking counselling. During your initial consultation, you can check that everything is working correctly and that you feel comfortable receiving counselling in this way. This is also your opportunity to get to know your counsellor and ensure that you are happy with their style of working.

During sessions, ensure you are in a comfortable position and in a room where you won’t be disturbed. Regarding payment, the counsellor may ask you to pay via a secure online payment before the session, or they may ask for card details at the end.

Online chat counselling

This form of counselling is carried out at a prearranged time using an instant messenger service, allowing clients to receive an instant 'real-time' response.

While email counselling can be very beneficial, the instant feedback obtained from online chat counselling can be comforting for clients who wish to interact and respond with their therapist immediately. Similar to email counselling, online chat counselling is often more accessible and convenient than that of face to face counselling. It also gives the client the option of remaining anonymous.

How does online chat counselling work?

If you have decided that online chat counselling is an avenue you would like to explore, get in touch with your chosen counsellor to arrange a mutually convenient time for you to ‘meet’ online. At the chosen time slot, the counsellor and client will both log on to a predetermined chat room (which will be secure and confidential), so that they can exchange instant messages for the agreed length of the session.

As with all forms of counselling, certain details will need to be confirmed before the online therapy begins. This may be done over the phone, via email or using instant messenger.

Whatever mode of communication, the client should ensure they have spoken to their counsellor about why they are seeking help, how many sessions they may need, cost, privacy and the cancellation policy.

When people come to face-to-face therapy they often have a bit of time to process the session, this can be the journey home or to work, when they do their session online at home or work, they often go straight back into their day. Try and have a bit of a break between your session and being pulled back into your day.

- Counsellor Andrew Harvey.

Email counselling

Email counselling is a form of online counselling that allows a client to work with a qualified counsellor or therapist via an email exchange. The process involves the client writing their concerns in an email, and the counsellor replying with a considered therapeutic response.

Writing down our problems can be an extremely effective way of processing negative emotions. Putting pen to paper or, in this case, hand to keyboard, is an ideal way for individuals who do not feel comfortable speaking about their problems out loud.

Because emails can be written at any time and the client is in control of the timing on their side of the contract - they have the freedom to document what is on their mind as it occurs, rather than waiting for several days for a face-to-face session.

Just knowing there is someone there to receive, acknowledge and respond to your problems without judgement can provide an enormous sense of comfort and support to anyone attempting to overcome a difficult period in their life.

How does email counselling work?

Email counselling will revolve around a series of email exchanges between the online counsellor and client. Before sessions begin, however, there will be an initial consultation, whereby the client can get to know the therapist better, asking any questions they have or concerns.

Other details that may be discussed during the initial consultation include:

  • The client's reason for seeking counselling and the issues that need to be addressed.
  • Some background information about the client.
  • Guidelines on how many times the client is able to email the counsellor.
  • The time frame in which the client can expect to receive a response.
  • Fees - what is the cost of each email exchange?
  • Privacy and confidentiality policy.
  • Cancellation policy.

Do I need to be computer literate to have online therapy?

While individuals considering the option of online counselling will need some basic computer skills, you don’t need to be a 'tech genius' to make online, email or instant chat counselling work for you. The majority of counsellors who do offer these services will be able to provide a step-by-step simple approach to getting started.

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