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Telephone and online counselling

The coronavirus pandemic has meant that we, as a society, have had to get used to a new normal. We can't be sure how long this will go on for, but we want you to know that help is still available. While we can't physically visit a counsellor, online therapy is a highly effective form of support.

This is new for all of us, and it's OK if you're feeling anxious and uneasy during this time. If you need to talk to someone, we have over 12,000 counsellors offering online support. Simply search for the person who resonates with you and contact them via telephone or email.

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What's worrying you?

Face-to-face counselling may be one of the more recognised forms of treatment, but there are many forms of therapy and many different types. Counselling is totally individual and what works for one person, may not work for you. Whether you have tried face to face counselling and it wasn’t what you were after, or there are other reasons as to why you’d like to try another way, know that there are options.

On this page we’ll explore the other forms of counselling in more detail, such as telephone and online counselling, and why they may be better for you.

Online, email and telephone counselling offers individuals the same level of support and confidentiality as meeting face to face with a qualified counsellor or therapist. It can also offer suitable solutions to some of the difficulties associated with receiving treatment in a traditional therapeutic setting.

Common difficulties include:

Accessibility - Counselling slots can become booked very quickly. This is especially true for appointments that are in high demand, such as those in the evening and at weekends. Online and telephone counsellors however may be able to offer a higher level of flexibility - therefore reducing the waiting time for treatment and making it more accessible.

Affordability - Reduced overheads, like not having to rent a private counselling space, may mean that some counsellors are able to offer online, email or telephone counselling at a reduced rate.

Anonymity - If you are concerned about the stigma attached to mental health problems, or you are worried that someone may find out you are having treatment, online services offer you a higher level of privacy, as well as in some cases, giving the option to remain anonymous.

Convenience - These services mean that you are able to receive support from the comfort of your own home, or wherever it is that you are.

This can be a hugely beneficial aspect for certain individuals, particularly those who are housebound and/or disabled, carers who are restricted with their availability, parents who cannot afford childcare, people who cannot commit to regular appointments in the therapy room due to other priorities or location and those who are hearing impaired.

woman laughing while on the telephone

The idea of online counselling has been around for some time. Yet due to the rise of social media, online technology and the use of smartphones, we have seen a growing movement towards online counselling services in recent years.

With so many people online on a daily basis, either for leisure or work, online counselling is an ideal alternative to the many potential obstacles potential clients will face when seeking therapy. Ultimately, online counselling is a method which can be used to reach people who are unable to access support or would like to get the support they need in a more comfortable environment.

Telephone counselling

Telephone counselling works in the same way as face to face counselling, but is conducted over the phone. Therapists may offer this as an additional avenue of support between face to face counselling sessions, and others may focus solely on conducting the counselling over the phone.

How does telephone counselling work?

The first step is simply for the client to call the counsellor for an initial discussion. If the counsellor feels that telephone counselling is going to be an appropriate method of treatment, a session can be booked in for a time that is convenient for you.

During the initial conversation, the counsellor will take the opportunity to discuss the areas that need to be addressed, to find out some background information about the client, and to discuss the number of counselling sessions that may be needed. The counsellor will also usually outline their confidentiality policy as well as general information, such as cancellation policy.

Contact a counsellor for telephone support.

Online counselling

Simply put, online counselling is any form of counselling that is conducted over the Internet. This could be via email or via a messaging service 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.

Is online counselling effective?

While some experts believe the efficacy of online and telephone counselling 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.

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 problems and 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.

If you're unsure as to whether email counselling is a suitable option for you, we recommend searching for a counsellor you resonate with and contact them to discuss your concerns.

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 counselling begins. This may be done over the phone, via email or using the 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.

hands typing at computer

Video chat 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. In terms of payment, your counsellor may ask you to pay via a secure online payment before the session, or they may ask for credit card details at the end. It’s important to keep personal details safe, so ensure all payments are carried out in a safe and secure manner.

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

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.

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.

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