As well as face to face counselling where you and the counsellor are located in the same room, you can also have online counselling using a desktop computer, tablet or smartphone. Using any of these devices with internet connection, you can communicate with an online counsellor for support via video call, text or email.
Email is one of the oldest online communication tools in existence. The common approach is to send the counsellor one email per week, with one therapeutic email reply from the counsellor in return. However, discussion about alternative arrangements can take place if required. Agreeing a specific day for email exchange would be the usual process, with the therapeutic email response following no more than 48 hours later. The maximum length of an email carries a maximum 1500 word count. If you have additional material you would like to express, this can be carried to your next email. The program used to send and receive therapeutic email is called Protonmail which is GDPR compliant software in terms of security. As best as security can be on the internet, the Protonmail software provides a highly secure and fully end to end encrypted connection so that your email would be very difficult to access by anyone apart from you and the counsellor.
This is something you may already use daily with apps such as Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Apple iMessage or basic text messaging via a mobile phone. In its simplest form, this is a synchronous communication system where two or more people communicate simultaneously back and forth via text messages. Online counselling sessions would be similar to face to face, where you and the counsellor would agree a time to connect and each session would last 50 minutes. The platform used to connect is called Zoom which is GDPR and HIPAA compliant software in terms of security. As best as security can be on the internet, the Zoom software provides a highly secure and fully end to end encrypted connection so that your session would be very difficult to access by anyone other than you and the counsellor.
A video call is the closest type of online counselling to emulate face to face counselling. This is because you and the counsellor will be able to see and hear each other at the same time. You’ll need a device that has a webcam and microphone attached for this to work. Sessions would be similar to face to face, where you and the counsellor would agree a time to connect and each session would last 50 minutes. The platform used to connect is called Zoom which is fully GDPR and HIPAA compliant software in terms of security. As best as security can be on the internet, the Zoom software provides a highly secure and fully end to end encrypted connection so that your session would be very difficult to access by anyone other than you and the counsellor.
Travel time, journey costs, traffic jams and finding a parking space are all eliminated with online counselling. This becomes even more convenient if you are without transport or not feeling well enough physically or emotionally to venture outside your own home.
If you travel away from home on business or for personal reasons, the counsellor will always be reachable regardless of distance. Therefore, reducing the risk of session frequency being interrupted. This also includes couples counselling where one partner travels while the other is at home. Technology can connect your partner and you with the counsellor while you are all in different locations.
It’s more anonymous than face to face counselling, as with online counselling you won’t be seen by others entering or leaving the counsellor’s premises or having to sit with other people in a waiting room. Also, if you are from another part of the country or live outside the UK, there is a reduced risk of bumping into the counsellor while you are out in public.
Certain types of online counselling can be less intense than face to face counselling. Some people can feel too vulnerable and anxious about visiting a counsellor to discuss their deep personal issues. Using instant messaging or email, means you don’t have to sit face to face with a counsellor. Although video counselling is more revealing, some people have found this less intense than sitting in the same room as a counsellor. This has the potential to remove internal blocks in disclosing certain thoughts or issues that may feel too personal to reveal when face to face with a counsellor. One of the benefits to revealing more is that it may be quicker to get to the heart of the matter. However, it's worth bearing in mind that in revealing more it can sometimes feel overwhelming, although the counsellor will attempt to help in managing this.
You may also be looking for a counsellor that has a specialist skill or works in a particular way but can’t find someone in your local area. Again, distance with online counselling would not be an issue.
In terms of text messaging and email counselling, this involves writing down your thoughts, emotions and concerns. It is a well known fact that writing can be therapeutic in itself.
Technology can be a wonderful thing, when it works! Having a consistent and reliable internet connection is a necessity for online counselling. It is also important to have a device and communication software that are also reliable. Engaging in online counselling without these essentials could impact on your sessions and make them less effective. In the worst case scenario, it could even be counterproductive, leaving you feeling more distressed.
Sometimes during online counselling video calls, the voice and picture can shift out of sync. Usually this automatically corrects itself after a few seconds, or you may need to restart the software to regain the sync. However, this glitch is becoming less common with improved technology and internet connections.
Continuing the technology theme, security is an important factor which you will need to be partly responsible for. This means ensuring that if you want to keep your online counselling private and confidential, you will need to ensure you have the most up to date software and operating system on your device. This, and secure passwords can help prevent external hackers from accessing your personal communication with the online counsellor. You can find more information about what to be aware of and how to maximise your security from the UK's National Cyber Security Centre.
It is also important that while the counsellor will take every possible step within their means to maintain a secure communication environment, they can’t be responsible for what happens within the building you are connecting from. Therefore, it is important to ensure you are in a private room where you won’t be overheard or interrupted during sessions. It is also important that if you are sharing a computer with someone else, you ensure access to your email or other communication software is restricted if you do not wish that person to know about your counselling.
If you are using email or text messaging, this can leave you and the counsellor at a slight disadvantage in what you are both attempting to communicate to each other. It has been reported that 93% of communication is non-verbal. Therefore, you and the counsellor will not have access to body language (including facial expressions) or tone of voice which could lead to misunderstandings. This needs extra work on both your part and the counsellor to fully communicate the meanings behind your words. However, sometimes this can be really useful as it can really make you think about your situation which can provide greater insight into what concerns you.
When you make a request for online counselling, the online counsellor will assess if this kind of support is right for you. They will need to assess if you are able to use the technology so that online counselling is the best way to help you. The counsellor will need to check your identity to confirm you are who you say you are. This is particularly important if you are located in another country as certain laws exist that restrict who can provide counselling in a particular region. Sometimes the counsellor may suggest that it could be better to see them face to face as online counselling may not be suitable for you. Some of the examples where online counselling might not be suitable for you are:
Regardless of your location, the work I undertake using an online connection is based in, and under the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom and in accordance with the laws of England and Wales.