If you use social media, you know that it’s rare to scroll through your feed without seeing an ad for some type of online counseling service. While some people breeze right by them, many of us can’t help but wonder if this is something we should consider. Is social media trying to tell us something?
To be clear, these ads are a good thing. As mental health is becoming more of a priority, there are more services out there to help. But how do you know if online counseling is right for you?
First, we need to start with a thorough understanding of what counseling is.
What is counseling, anyway?
Imagine a Friday night, cozy on your couch watching television. A scene in a show pops up showing a distraught person laying on an awkwardly small couch while someone in a suit with a legal pad taps their pen and takes notes.
Sadly, this is how many of us view counseling because we have seen these images repeatedly on television and in movies. Although counseling can take place in a variety of settings, it usually doesn’t involve laying on a couch, and we certainly don’t need to be distraught to seek help.
Counseling is a service provided by trained, licensed professionals to help clients better understand themselves and their concerns, work through difficult situations, process their emotions, and express them more effectively.
These things can range from helping with conflict in marriage to alleviating stress to processing and finding healing from traumatic events. There is no wrong reason to seek counseling.
One of the most important aspects of counseling is that you are treated by a professional. Providers like psychologists, social workers, therapists, and counselors are trained and licensed to provide the help people need.
The most common form of counseling is talk therapy. During talk therapy, you spend time regularly with a mental health professional talking about and working through difficult situations, thoughts, emotions, or behaviors. Sometimes this can be one-on-one counseling, but there are other options such as marriage counseling, family counseling, and group therapy.
Ultimately, the purpose of counseling is for the client to feel heard and empowered, and gain the insights and the tools they need to accomplish their mental health and wellness goals.
What is online counseling?
In this wonderful world of technology, we now have access to counseling with the click of a button. Since counseling is primarily about talking to a professional, companies and individual practitioners provide online counseling services to help clients meet their mental health and wellness goals from the comfort of their own home, office, or other private location with an internet connection.
You may have heard online counseling referred to in many ways. Some of the different terms for online counseling are:
- Web counseling
- Web therapy
- Online therapy
Each of these names describes the same thing: counseling services that are provided virtually through video conferencing, phone calls, or even text messaging. Online counseling provides counseling services through these different avenues, with live video sessions being the most common.
During these sessions, the counselor will interact with you the same way he or she would in person. But there are a few differences between online counseling and in-person counseling you should consider. To help you decide what is best for you, let’s look at some of the pros and cons of online counseling.
Positive aspects of online counseling.
There are a lot of benefits of online counseling to consider. As you read through these, consider how important each point is to you and your specific situation. That will help you make the best decision for your unique circumstances.
Convenience. Online counseling is very convenient, eliminating things like driving time and transportation issues. People often find it easier to fit online counseling into their day during a lunch break or after the kids go to bed.
Accessibility. If you have a phone or computer with a reliable internet connection, you have access to online counseling services. This is especially helpful for people with minimal mental health services in their area.
Comfort. Some people feel more comfortable opening up to a counselor while they are in a comfortable, familiar space like their own home. Meeting online allows you to choose the location of your sessions.
Ease. Some people may find it easier to talk and share more openly with a counselor online or on the phone, rather than in-person.
Broader provider network. With online counseling, you can access professionals in a much larger geographic area, increasing your options and reducing potential wait times to begin counseling.
Increased insurance coverage. Many health insurance companies have expanded coverage to include online therapy options.
Price. Some online counseling options are cheaper than local, in-person options.
Consistency. People struggling with general anxiety, social anxiety, or phobias may be more consistent with attending online counseling sessions because they can be in a familiar, comfortable space that feels safer to them.
Reduced physical barriers and health concerns. Online counseling is more accessible for those with mobility challenges or concerns about illness, such as those who are immunocompromised, allowing them to feel more comfortable knowing they are not increasing their risk for illness by going to a counselor’s office.
Potential challenges of online counseling.
While there are many positive aspects of online counseling and research has shown it to be effective, telehealth may not be right for everyone. As you read the potential concerns below, think about whether they pertain to you and, if so, how they might affect you and your progress.
Accessibility. For some, lack of internet availability, reliable internet connection, or access to an adequate computer or smartphone may present barriers to online counseling.
Technology issues. Inconsistent connections, software issues, and hardware problems can result in audio and/or video freezes or delays, potentially preventing participants from hearing each other or causing them to talk over one another. Disruptions to the flow of communication between a client and their counselor will prevent the most positive counseling experience and outcome.
Lack of personal connection. Some people feel it is less personal to talk to someone using a computer or phone, which may inhibit them from sharing fully, limiting the effectiveness of counseling.
Privacy. A quiet, private space is essential for clients to share freely, ensuring productive counseling sessions. In addition, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requires that during a telehealth session, both the client and the counselor must be alone in a private space.
Interruptions. A counselor’s office is a controlled environment, ensuring that there will be no interruptions. If you are counseling online in your home, workplace, or somewhere else, you might encounter interruptions such as family members, pets, coworkers, horns, and sirens that could disrupt your session.
Nonverbal cues. Communication is comprised of three elements that combine to convey meaning – the words we speak, the tone of our voice, and our body language. Surprisingly, our words typically only represent 7% of the meaning conveyed when we communicate with someone face-to-face.
The other 93% is conveyed nonverbally through the tone of our voice and our body language. In fact, body language makes up a whopping 55% of the meaning conveyed when we speak. When we communicate on the telephone or even on a video call, we are unable to see and interpret the other person’s body language entirely, so we can miss a large portion of what the other person is expressing.
Although most online counseling takes place using video, where much of body language is visible, it is still possible for counselors to miss important cues, and for both counselor and client to occasionally misinterpret what the other is communicating.
Age appropriateness. Engaging with a therapist online can be challenging for some children. While online counseling is effective for many children, there are additional considerations when determining if is appropriate, particularly for children who have challenges staying in one place or require multisensory activities.
Number of people. Any type of counseling that involves a group of people may be more challenging online. While research has shown couples, family, and group telehealth to be effective, it can present unique challenges. Both group cohesion and therapeutic alliance (the relationship and bond between counselor and client) may develop more slowly online than in-person.
Discomfort or lack of experience with technology. Some people may simply feel uncomfortable utilizing technology or find it difficult to navigate and problem-solve small technical issues, both of which may prevent them from relaxing and having a positive experience.
An important note.
While the vast majority of practitioners are honest in offering services that they are professionally trained to offer, some do not have the training or certification required for therapy. Whether you seek help in-person or online, make sure you are working with a licensed professional in a reputable practice or on a reputable site.
Making your decision.
Ultimately, this decision is yours alone. Consider the pros and cons and consider how they would impact you. Think about how each makes you feel. The good news is that you are not making a lifelong decision. You can always try it and see if you like it. If online counseling isn’t for you, you can seek someone in person. And if in-person services present challenges, you can give online counseling a try.
The providers at Seattle Christian Counseling offer a variety of services to meet your needs. Feel free to contact our reception team today to schedule an appointment or so we can help answer your questions and decide what is best for you.
We’re here to help you both in person and online.
“Online”, Courtesy of Getty Images, Unsplash.com, Unsplash+ License; “On the Laptop”, Courtesy of Elijah O’Donnell, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Video Call”, Courtesy of LinkedIn Sales Solutions, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Online Meeting”, Courtesy of Diva Plavalaguna, Pexels.com, CC0 License
DISCLAIMER: THIS ARTICLE DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE
The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material contained on this article are for informational purposes only. No material on this site is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please contact one of our counselors for further information.