It’s no secret that our world is becoming more digital than ever.
Technological innovations are revolutionizing virtually every aspect of our lives, from the way we buy groceries to how we attend school. It was only a matter of time before online counselling services would emerge to disrupt solo and couples counselling.
If you’ve done any research on therapy options lately, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve come across talk of online counselling. This might be the first time hearing about online counselling for many, so it naturally raises some questions. What exactly is online counselling, and is it as legitimate as traditional counselling sessions? What are the pros and cons of online counselling?
What Exactly is Online Counselling?
Online counselling, also known as e-therapy, e-counselling, teletherapy, or cyber-counselling, is an alternative to traditional face-to-face therapy.
Instead of meeting in person, the counsellor provides mental health services and support over the internet. This can include video conferencing software, online chat, email, and even text messaging.
Online counselling has been around for a while but has exploded in popularity in the last couple of years thanks to technological innovations and partly due to the recent Covid-19 pandemic. As we’ve all adapted to the “new normal”, more and more people are embracing digital alternatives to traditional services.
Just because a service is new and gaining in popularity doesn’t mean that it’s right for everyone. The benefits and drawbacks of online counselling should be weighed by each person individually before deciding on the correct method for their needs.
What Are the Pros of Online Counselling?
While traditional counselling services have existed for decades and helped millions of people over the years, some issues have delayed, disturbed, or detracted from the sessions. Online counselling seeks to answer and solve many of these problems like any disruptive technology.
Cut travel times
Getting to and from the counsellor’s office is a significant undertaking many overlook when first choosing their therapist. While someone starts with high motivation to make it to every session, busy times at work, problems with the kids, and other little life problems can emerge over time. In many major cities or rural areas, getting to your therapist could take an hour or more. If the therapist is on the other side of town and you’re having a busy day, chances are high that you might cancel or postpone your session. For many, a counsellor’s location is a significant factor in their selection criteria.
Online counselling solves problems relating to accessibility and gives you back your valuable time. It also allows you to select a counsellor based on how well they match your personality and needs, rather than choosing because they have a convenient location.
People struggle to access therapy for several reasons. Often the therapists they want are booked up at the most convenient times. Online counselling can offer more flexibility and shorter wait times to speak with a counsellor. Since you don’t have to factor in travel times, you can select appointments at less popular times, increasing the likelihood of getting a booking.
Also, online counselling provides an alternative for patients with mobility issues or disabilities that make it harder to leave their homes. If you’re suffering from social phobias, anxiety disorders, etc., online counselling makes therapy more accessible than ever.
Direct, face-to-face communication can be difficult for some people. Particularly when it comes to talking about intimate and personal issues. Communicating online provides a buffer that can make it easier for these people to open up about their feelings. Also, because the patient controls where the sessions take place, for example, in one’s home, there’s a natural comfort level over meeting in an unfamiliar office.
Typically, online counselling is more economical and affordable for the patient and the therapist. Without maintaining an office, many therapists can lower their overhead and provide counselling services at a lower rate. Since sessions can run from anywhere virtually, the patient saves on the associated costs of commuting to and from sessions.
Some patients still struggle with a perceived social stigma about seeing a therapist. Online counselling allows people to attend therapy without having to visit a counselling centre. Others also worry about bias due to race, gender, age, or physical appearance. Online counselling allows these patients to opt for entirely anonymous therapy without video, increasing their ability to be open and honest during their sessions.
What Are The Cons of Online Counselling?
While online counselling solves many of the pain points experienced by many, it isn’t always the right solution for everyone.
Confidentiality and privacy concerns
A professional counsellor will make every effort to ensure the confidentiality of your sessions by using vetted software and running their sessions from an office with strict confidentiality protections in place. However, adding extra software and services will naturally introduce some additional risks. It’s best to talk with your counsellor about what they do to ensure your confidentiality before beginning if the confidentiality of your sessions is a primary concern.
It’s vital to note that while a professional counsellor will do everything they can to protect your information on their side, some actions will be required on the patient side as well. For example, if you are having your session at home or in the office, you will need to take precautions to keep others from overhearing your private information.
These days most internet connections are fast and reliable. However, those accessing from remote locations or in areas of extreme weather could have sessions interrupted because of technological difficulties. While these interruptions are becoming rarer, there is still a chance a session could be disrupted due to technical issues.
Chance of miscommunication
There can be increasing chances for miscommunication depending on what type of online counselling one chooses. If one opts for total anonymity and forgoes video conferencing, the therapist will not have access to small facial cues and other body language used to assess a patient. These nonverbal details can also be more challenging to pick up even in video conferencing when compared to an in-person session.
It can be easier for less scrupulous counsellors to operate online. When electing online counselling, it’s crucial to take the time to thoroughly vet and get to know your therapist before starting.
Difficulty with extreme cases
Online counselling might not be suitable for someone suffering from serious psychiatric illnesses like substance abuse, severe depression, schizophrenia, or other more extreme disorders. In these cases, traditional therapy might better serve one’s needs. Also, it can be more difficult for an online therapist to respond in a crisis situation.
Online Counselling: A New Option to Consider
To some, the idea of online counselling contradicts their image of professional therapy. They expect to lay on a couch in an office. For others, online counselling is the obvious natural evolution and the next step for treatment.
Thankfully, online counselling is simply another form of therapy one can choose.
Therapy works best when you’re available and comfortable. If you’d prefer to come to the office, that’s an option. Or you can choose virtual sessions if that’s more convenient. There’s no right or wrong choice, but simply what works best for your needs and schedule.
If you’ve been considering therapy and feel online counselling might be right for you, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. I’m happy to talk with you and answer any questions you might have.