Online Counselling

A few years ago, someone close to me went through some medical treatment that inhibited their ability to leave their home for an extended period of time. During this period, aside from immediate family, they connected with friends and family through online technology, social media and telephone. Interestingly, this person emerged out of the other end of this time more connected than they were previously and had even made new friends.

Over the years I have had some friends that I have primarily built relationship with through writing. Sometimes, the vehicle of pen and paper or email provides a less inhibited form of communication. You have more time to think about what you might write and therefore may ascribe more meaning to it than if you are talking. Some people find this easier if they are shy or struggle a bit socially.

We know that people have communicated for centuries through writing, whilst travelling or because of geographical relocation. Many of us know the excitement of receiving mail (or email nowadays) from a loved one. In the global village that we live in nowadays, it is not uncommon for family members, spouses, children and friends to be networking with each other from opposite sides of the globe.

Whilst I am a firm believer that there is no substitute for face to face contact, a handshake, a hug and more intimate physical contact, it is evident that we are able to develop close and sustained relationships through online technologies, writing and telephone. At times, for whatever reason, we have no choice but to do this and I for one am thankful for the technology that makes this possible.

The reality of the situation is that we as human beings are relational. We are tribal, we are bonders, we need attachment to live. A person’s mental and physical health is directly proportional to their relational health. This isn’t theory, it is fact. Dr Sue Johnson, the creator of a highly effective strategy for relationship repair called emotionally focussed couples therapy (EFT) states, “the research is clear: Our relationships impact our physiology.”

In todays world, and with the additional impact of COVID-19 and the associated demand for social distancing, we do well to take advantage of social technology. Whilst I’m not advocating the proliferation of unhealthy ‘social media addiction’ that can ensue from over indulgence in platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, I am encouraging people to connect in authentic ways through technology. This can be where Online Counselling comes in.

Online and telephone counselling can be an effective way for people who are geographically inhibited from engaging in face to face sessions. Again, whilst I don’t believe there is a substitute for face to face relationship, I do believe that therapy can be successful online. Clearly there are advantages and disadvantages to online counselling.

The Advantages

Accessibily

Convenience

Less Social Stigma

Anonymity

Variant ways to communicate

Disadvantages

Absence of verbal and non-verbal cues

Confidentiality and security

Not suitable for clinical issues such as chronic depression or psychotic

Therapist credibility

Possibility of ethical issues

Conclusion

Online counselling is becoming more and more popular in todays world. It is not without it’s critics and not without its limitations and unique problems, but it is evident that when it’s done right, it works. A number of studies — including two 2013 studies published in the Journal of Affective Disorders and Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Networking — found online counselling to be as effective as traditional face-to-face therapy. In certain instances, online therapy may be more effective.

During this time, whilst physical separation is a must for some people remember that Online Counselling is an option and it’s here to stay.

Nick Gwynn

Breathe Counselling