Sally Connolly, LCSW, LMFT has been a therapist for over 30 years, specializing in work with couples, families and relationships. She has expertise with clients ...Read More
Online counseling, also known as e-therapy, is a relatively new development in the helping profession. Most people need some form of help at different points in their lives, and yet, sharing personal problems with a professional therapist over the internet or phone is new.
- Are you one of those busy moms who has trouble finding a babysitter?
- Are you a dawn to dusk professional who has no time to think, let alone visit, with a therapist to talk about a troubling personal or relationship issue?
- Do health or distance issues make it hard to get to someone who can help you solve a personal dilemma?
If so, online counseling may be worth exploring to find out if it can provide you with the help that you need. You can receive help from the privacy of your own home and, if it is email therapy, you can start right away.
A lot of research shows that online counseling has success with many problems that clients face. It can be as effective as visiting a therapist’s office and yet is often less costly and may be available around the clock.
My husband and I began conducting online counseling 2 years ago. We have found it a wonderful way to share some of our many years of experience and knowledge with others around the country.
In this blog entry, I am going to answer some of the common questions that people have about online counseling. Later I will share a some possible scenarios of online counseling experiences.
Who might benefit from online counseling?
People who have specific dilemmas that they are facing and want some direction and suggestions might find online counseling helpful in figuring out a plan to deal with their problems.
While many people would like to have the opportunity for someone to just listen to their concerns, others would like concrete suggestions for steps that they can take to solve their problems. Competent online therapists will have exercises and experiments for you to use as well as suggestions for reading and research to help you make a difference in your problem.
What problems or situations are better handled with someone in the room?
Many crises which involve the strong emotions and thoughts of suicide are best handled by someone who is present with you and best able to assess your needs and make recommendations for the best course of treatment. Competent online counselors will immediately refer you for help locally.
Children and teens under 18 need to have parental consent in most states so therapists will want to have some involvement with their parents and online counseling may not be advisable.
What can I expect during an online counseling session?
Your online counseling therapist will give you directions for how to begin. She, or he, will want some preliminary information from you about yourself and may ask you to define the problem you are having and what you would like to gain from therapy.
You can also expect to pay for your session prior to beginning. Paypal or another credit card options are usually preferred.
A phone session will proceed in much the same manner as an in-person counseling session. Most likely you will have the option of also using a video conferencing call as well so that you can see each other.
With email, you will share your concerns with the online counselor who will then respond with feedback and suggestions. He or she may also have some additional questions for you to help you get a better understanding of the dilemma and suggestions for how to proceed.
You will continue with phone sessions or email exchanges until you believe that your problem has been resolved or you have the direction that you know you need to go.
One of the nice things about email counseling is that you will have a record of your sessions so you can refer back to them whenever you need to do that.
With both phone and email, sessions can be conducted with more than one person. Some of them, as with in-person sessions, will be individual while others will be open to both members of the couple or family group.
Is it really safe and confidential?
If you are interested in email counseling, your therapist will direct you to a secure and encrypted website address, skype or chat room. This will help with cyber space but will not secure things on your end. You will need to secure your own email and/or computer so that others do not have access to your personal information.
How can I check out the credentials of an online therapist? How can I know that the person I want to talk with about my most personal problems is real and can really help me?
Most likely, you won’t be getting a referral from your doctor or friend. Instead you will have to rely on your own research to check on the credentials of the online therapist.
Carefully read their website. There should be a link to their state licensure board to check out their credentials. Read any articles that they have written about their philosophy of counseling and how they may have treated or will treat your concern. Carefully check to see if they have discussed confidentiality policies and procedures.
What are the drawbacks for online counseling?
Some people say that they miss the opportunity to develop a relationship with their therapist when they only have email or phone conversations.
Those who are not “technologically inclined” may also find this form of therapy frustrating. There is also always the possibility that there may be an interruption in service because of computer or internet and phone problems.
These are answers to a few of your questions. I hope that it has clarified a little for you so that you might think about exploring this option as one door to find help with your personal dilemma.