What is eCounselling?

As humanity continues to move into the digital age, it seems only natural that technology has become an important and effective partner in the way people receive help for their mental health and emotional needs.

Ecounselling entails counsellors and clients meeting virtually via video conferencing technology, or utilizing just the audio portion of that same technology in the absence of a webcam. It also includes phone counselling, whereby both counsellors and clients engage via phone. Some counsellors include email counselling in their definition of eCounselling.

Advantages to eCounselling

Certainly, there are some distinct advantages to eCounselling that immediately come to mind.

eCounselling Video CounsellingFirstly, eCounselling offers much more accessibility to those who need it. In particular, many folks who struggle with movement, or are physically unable to attend in-person sessions, would find eCounselling beneficial. Clients with visual or hearing impairments would certainly benefit from eCounselling. Technology has brought help and relief to these clients in a way that they could not access before.

It is also convenient for clients with very busy lives, and for clients who live in remote locations where in-person counselling may not be available. Clients do not have to find the means to get to a traditional in-person appointment, nor do counsellors have to book therapy rooms for the session.

Counsellors and clients may also schedule their appointments at more convenient times not traditionally viewed as work time. Clients who are ambivalent or uncomfortable about traditional in-person therapy, would appreciate the convenience of eCounselling. Those who suffer from severe anxiety, agoraphobia or social anxiety, would also welcome eCounselling.

Evidently, the convenience of eCounselling offers many more clients the opportunity to address their mental health issues, from the comfort and privacy of their home.

Limitations of eCounselling

There are some drawbacks to eCounselling. Some clients may not be comfortable using technology, computers, or webcams. In these scenarios, clients may become frustrated and anxious in their inability to get their session going due to technological limitations.

There are instances of Internet connection failing, or of insufficient Internet capabilities to support a smooth video connection. Clients may be further frustrated if a call drops, or if there is a lag in transmission while in the midst of a video session with their counsellor.

There are folks who are very wary of using the Internet, due to stories of exploitation and fraud. Clients are encouraged to ensure that their counsellors are who they say they are, and have the appropriate qualifications and training to provide therapy.

Furthermore, the inability of counsellors to see non-verbal cues is a limitation in audio, phone or email counselling, that may hinder the counsellor in their work.

When is eCounselling not appropriate?

There are certainly limitations to eCounselling. Many counsellors would not work with individuals who present with severe mental health issues, as this cannot be effectively addressed remotely. Nor would it be ethical or morally acceptable for counsellors to accept clients with these issues.

The following list is an idea of some of the issues clients face that are not appropriate for eCounselling:

– Clients who present with suicidality
– Clients who are at risk of self-harm, or harm to others
– Clients with severe mental issues such as psychosis, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, etc.
– Clients in crisis or an emergency situation

It is also not appropriate nor beneficial for children to receive eCounselling.

In the above cases, clients would benefit most from in-person, or face-to-face counselling.

Scenarios where clients become suicidal or present with more pressing issues after commencing eCounselling, are also possible. In these cases, the counsellor would terminate treatment, after determining the best course of action and care of their client.

Is eCounselling effective?

Certainly, there have been studies to support the benefits of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy delivered via eCounselling for a number of issues (refer to studies* given below).

In terms of effectiveness, video counselling may be the most effective (amongst video, audio, phone, and email in some cases), as counsellors are able to read non-verbal cues, in as much as this mode of communication would allow.

Read here for Tips for Successful eCounselling.

Without doubt, eCounselling provides new opportunities, and unique challenges, for mental health. As with all things, people must be informed of limitations and drawbacks of the technology. While it cannot fully replace traditional in-person treatment, it does provide a viable alternative, as long as the limitations are clearly and satisfactorily addressed with clients and their consent is obtained.

Give us a call today to find out if eCounselling works for you. We are here to help.


* References:

Shaw, H.E., & Shaw, S.F. (2006). Critical Ethical Issues in Online Couselling: Assessing Current Practices with an Ethical Intent Checklist. Journal of Couselling and Development,84, 41-53.

Trepal, H. Haberstroth, S. Duffey, T., & Evans, M. (2007).Considerations and Strategies for Teaching Online skills: Establishing Relationships in Cyberspace. Cousellor Education and Supervision, 46, 266-279.

Haberstroth, S., Duffey, T., Evans, M., Gee, R., & Trepal, H. (2007). The experience of online couselling. Journal of Mental Health Couselling, 29, 269, 282.