Online Counseling has become popular over a period of time. It refers to providing Counseling and psychotherapy services through audio-visual mode by using internet. The internet is just not about chatting with near and dear ones only, online therapy can prove to be a very effective mode of improving an individual’s psychological & emotional well-being.
Online Counseling can bring individuals for management who would otherwise avoid going for the same.
Advantages of Online Counseling Services
Counseling services are provided through video or phone sessions. These give the client and the therapist to communicate and work together on various problems and aspects of the client, as much as one would do during a face to face session.
Convenience & Flexibility:
The appointments can be taken over a 24 hr and this provides flexibility to both the counselor and the client.
Accessibility of Online Counseling Services:
Online Counseling Services helps in overcoming barriers that would otherwise stop an individual to seek professional help. The barriers can be social anxiety, traveling, physical disabilities, off from work, being away from therapist etc. People in remote areas find it difficult to avail mental health services, online Counseling can benefit them as it is easy to access. Also a large number of people avoid visiting psychologist’s office, because of fear of being judged and stigma around mental health problems.
They avoid going to a nearby Clinical Psychologist or Psychotherapist because of fear of being recognized by known people in the locality. They can initially opt for Online Counseling Services and once they have worked on their fears and stigma around help seeking behavior, then they can join in-person sessions. It has been seen that once clients feel secure and safe with their Clinical Psychologists during online therapy sessions, they then become willing to visit for face to face sessions also.
Cost of Online Counseling Services:
Online Counseling Services are economical for both the client and the counselor. There are costs like renting a space; hiring staff, commuting and many other costs in face to face sessions. With online Counseling both the therapists and counselor have the option of reducing their expenses.
Anonymity in Online Counseling Services:
During Online Counseling Services a client may be more open to the counselor due to its anonymity. The client may feel more safe and secure and this may lead to self-disclosure. The therapeutic relationship between the client and the therapist may be as powerful in online Counseling as it is in face to face therapy. But there is a prerequisite to this that the psychotherapist or the clinical psychologist should be as trained to handle the online client as he/she would in face to face sessions. He or she should be well qualified in using techniques of Psychotherapy.
Verbal & Non-Verbal Behaviour:
Psychotherapy involves understanding the client’s verbal and nonverbal behavior to guide and assist the client. With Online Counseling Services this becomes difficult, as the client is not there in-person. With video online therapy still some aspects of non-verbal behaviors can be assessed, but in audio based therapy it becomes impossible as the therapist is not able to see the facial expressions, posture and lot many other aspects of non-verbal behavior, which may have negative impact on the therapeutic process.
For severe mental disorders like psychosis, substance abuse, Severe Depression, suicidal ideation etc Online Counseling Services is not advisable. As these require crisis intervention and need psycho-pharmacological intervention as the first line of treatment from a Psychiatrist.
Mental health professionals have a responsibility to maintain confidentiality of their clients and the information provided by them. The platforms used for the Online Counseling Services sessions should be safe and secure otherwise the confidentiality can be breached.
Still a lot of research is needed to establish efficacy of online sessions. Due to lack of in-person sessions there is a higher probability of misdiagnosis by the clinician. The clinician needs to be well qualified, trained and experienced to handle the client both face to face and through online mode.
At times the clients are not aware about the qualification and experience of their counselors. They just search on internet and randomly choose the person online. There are unqualified and inexperienced people who label themselves as counselors or psychologists. It’s necessary that the client is assured and has the details of the professional qualification and credibility of the therapist.
It is necessary that boundaries be maintained during the therapy sessions whether it is face to face or online therapy. There should be clear communication about time of sessions and asking questions through messages or emails. At times when the boundaries are not maintained then this can lead to client sending messages at inappropriate time which can lead to discomfort in the therapist.
A fruitful and effective psychological online session can happen when there is proper connection between the therapist and the client. And this would require good internet connection. As the disruption in the middle of the session or during the follow up sessions can make the client feel more disturb and dissatisfied. Also here the knowledge of using computers and laptop is a must for both the client and counselor to have fulfilling experience during session.
Online therapy is no doubt versatile in nature and is growing fast. It can be a useful medium for Counseling people with social anxiety, people who want more anonymity, and have less time, have disabilities or social stigma. It has also been proven to be more economical for both the client and the counsellor. Online therapy has its own different problems. Like not applicable for severe psychiatric disorders, confidentiality and counsellor credentials have to be taken care of. But as we know that a larger part of the population doesn’t have serious mental disorders, so it can be very well used for people with stress, anxiety, marital conflicts, career issues, teenage problems, parenting, people with physical disabilities etc.
“Something is better than nothing but mind it, one needs to do complete homework before choosing the right counselor or psychotherapist or Clinical Psychologist”.