Why choose online counselling?
COVID-19 led to a enormous increase in the need and demand for online therapy, as social distancing regulations meant that this became the only way of maintaining both ongoing and new therapeutic connections. As we have begun to open up our lives again and to be able to meet in person more often, both practitioners and clients are now recognizing that they have choices about ways of meeting - either in person in the room together or online, or perhaps using a combination of different approaches. It can be very important to think carefully about what is best for you and to take time to make careful decisions about this, whether you are a practitioner or a client.
My background in online counselling and psychotherapy
I first explored the idea of working as a counsellor online in 2006, when asked to set up an online service for students. I researched the idea very carefully, finding out as much as I could about the experiences of both online therapists and clients before taking things further. I then completed an online training, joining a growing network of other professionals also developing work in this area. We are committed to the provision of ethical, professional and secure online services and the implementation of effective practice guidelines and standards.
I established my original service and began offering online therapy, initially through a pilot scheme which then became a permanent provision within the student services. I discovered that not only could online therapy provide very rich and meaningful therapeutic experiences for a wide range of people, but it could also open doors to therapy for those who might otherwise be unable to engage with help of this kind.
Reasons for choosing online approaches
Here are some of the reasons people give for choosing online counselling:
- I have to travel around a lot in the course of my work (sometimes abroad) and cannot commit to regular face-to-face appointments
- It is hard to coordinate my busy schedule with that of my counsellor
- Physical constraints prevent me from being able to get to my counsellor's consulting rooms
- I feel embarrassed about talking to someone in person about my difficulties; I am much less uncomfortable when meeting my counsellor online
- I prefer not to be 'seen' by my therapist
- The relationship online feels more 'equal' and I feel less concerned that I am being judged
- I feel more in control of what I do or don't say
- There is more 'time to think' when my counselling can be done by email (or 'asynchronously')and when the emails can be composed carefully and revised before I send them
- Text-based counselling enables me to keep a complete record of all that happens in counselling
- I can 'try it out' online first, and perhaps decide to engage in face-to-face counselling at a later date
How does it work?
Modern technology means that we can communicate through the use of a secure video and/or audio link, using a platform such as Zoom (some video-conferencing platforms are more suitable for the provision of therapy than others). I offer advice to therapists working in this way to help recreate the security and confidentiality that clients would expect from seeing a therapist in person. A variety of platforms can be used on a PC, Apple computer, smartphone or tablet, so offering the opportunity to work securely at a distance..
Alternatively, it is possible to engage in online therapy using text, either ‘live’ (using an Instant Messenger - IM - program) or by email, which some people prefer as it helps them to feel more contained and protected and offers them ‘time to think’. Whatever medium you choose, sessions are always arranged in advance and by appointment, just as they are if therapist and client meet in a room together.
Find out more about online counselling
After a couple of years' experience of delivering counselling online, I undertook more formal research into the impact of this approach, inviting clients and other online counsellors to participate in an academic study exploring the nature of the online relationship. This research has subsequently been published in journal articles and described in book chapters (see my publications list).
During the COVID-19 pandemic, online counselling and hybrid approaches have become the 'norm' (as opposed to being an unusual way of delivering counselling) and this is having a considerable impact on both clients and practitioners. My latest publication explores in more detail some of the questions that are arising within this context and highlights the need for careful consideration of the implications on all concerned of making such changes to counselling approaches. See Person-Centred and Experiential Therapies 2021 Vol 20 Issue 4
I keep in close contact with professional colleagues who also work online and I regularly make presentations to organizations, groups and at conferences.
In recent years I have worked closely with BACP to help provide guidance for colleagues who are considering taking some of their work online in order to promote safe and ethical practice at all levels and across a wide range of settings.