Someone having an online counselling session.

Benefits and Risks of Online Counselling

It seems like every aspect of life happens online. Today, people can do their taxes, order a pizza, fall in love and buy a car, so it only seems natural that they can get therapy online, too.

Online counselling is not necessarily new, but it is increasing in popularity, which leads to a number of changes with services shifting to keep up with demand. Although online counseling may not be right for everyone, for some it could be a much-needed support to improve their mental health and overall well-being.

Online Counselling Basics

People new to the concept of online counselling may have a single notion of the practice and what it entails. In reality, online counselling covers a broad variety of services.

Available versions of online therapy include:

  • Text message therapy where a therapist in exchanging text messages with the client
  • Phone therapy with the individual speaking to a therapist over the phone
  • E-mail therapy with the therapist and client e-mailing each other at scheduled intervals or as needed based on symptoms
  • Video chatting through web-based apps like FaceTime or Skype

Some forms of online counselling will subscribe to only one of these services while others will employ all of the above to provide the most comprehensive care. The available communication methods will vary based on factors including the location of services, insurance payment and therapist preference.

The idea of getting therapy at a distance is not new. For more than 20 years, the practice, sometimes referred to as telepsychology, has existed, but as smartphones became more capable, there was a higher demand for this form of therapy.

The Benefits of Online Counselling

When it comes to online counselling, convenience is by far the most obvious benefit of the service. People have busy, over-scheduled lives, so having the ability to check in with a therapist during a free moment is fantastic. Before your morning coffee or after the kids are sleeping at night, you can have therapy from the comfort of your own home.

After convenience, many people see privacy as a major benefit of online counselling. In the real world, a person must physically go into a building or therapist’s office to receive treatment, which could lead to embarrassment or awkward situations if you see someone you know.

With online counselling, you barely have to leave your house. The added convenience and privacy are valuable because they lower the barriers of access to counseling. Some people who have intense symptoms or pervasive disorders may avoid treatment, but online counselling creates ease around the process.

Another benefit is having access to a broader range of therapists with online counselling. Depending on your location, you may only have access to a handful of professionals, but with the internet, you can connect with therapists from every corner of the country.

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Problems and Risk Factors of Online Counselling

Many people find counselling to be an intimate experience between two people sitting face to face. Online counselling strips away much of the intimacy connected to the therapeutic process, as the counselor and client may never see each other.

In some cases, this separation will have little effect on the therapy process, but in other situations, a therapist can gain tremendous insights by being in the same room with the client to observe how they look, interact with others and experience the world. Without direct contact, the therapy could be less effective.

Another problem with online counseling involves the credentials of the therapist. Reliable sites will vet each professional to track their competency and try to reduce risk, but you may not actually know who you are communicating with or what their background is.

Some other risks of online counseling include:

  • Greater chance of miscommunication
  • The increased likelihood of being distracted during sessions
  • The challenging nature of trying to express feelings in words
  • Potential lack of insurance coverage
  • Potential privacy and confidentiality issues with unprotected servers or connected devices

Is Online Therapy Right for You?

With a simple online search, a person can find plenty of online counselling options, but are any of these right for you? The answer really depends on your expectations and symptoms.

People who may benefit from online counseling are people who:

  • Are interested in entering treatment for the first time
  • Have had negative experiences with therapy in the past
  • Have mild mental health symptoms
  • Do not need medications or are getting medications from another provider

People who should avoid online counseling options include:

  • Those with complex mental health, physical health and substance use disorders
  • People with a history of self-injury, suicidal, or homicidal behaviors
  • Those who find it difficult to be honest with their therapist
  • People who need to be connected to higher levels of care within their community

With mental health services, no one treatment works for all people. Instead, people need to experiment with various options to find one that fits their needs. With a little open-mindedness and patience, online counseling could be best treatment option for you.