What is online counselling?
The key difference between traditional (face to face) counselling and online counselling is simply how you get to the session.
To visit a counsellor in person you might get in your car or on the bus, to visit a counsellor online, you log in to your computer - however you get there, you are meeting same counsellor.
Naturally, there are pros and cons with each kind of meeting, and it is really important that if you are considering embarking on counselling in this way that you understand what the options are.
Face to face
Oak Owl Counselling
Audio - client and counsellor meet in a shared internet telephone session at an agreed time. Both people can hear the other speak, but with no visual, similar to a normal phone call.
Pros - communication is in real time, and the details of tone of voice can be heard, you do not need to be seen on screen if you don't want to.
Cons - no non-verbal communication through body language or facial expression, sometimes clients feel they have said "too much" too quickly because the nature of not being visible can make us feel less inhibited, and later over-exposed (this can occur in other online methods too).
Video - client and counsellor meet in a shared video session at an agreed time. Using video, both people can see each other on the screen and hear each other speaking.
Pros - being able to see each other's faces and body language to experience non-verbal communication, this method is most similar to traditional face to face counselling
Cons - potential problems with technology failing (this applies to all online methods of communication), need to have good internet connection and a webcam.
Face to face counselling
In traditional face to face counselling, the client and counsellor meet in a dedicated room, which is private, away from the client's home environment, and will not be interrupted or disturbed during the session. Sessions are usually held at the same time every week and this routine is often important and reassuring for clients. The counsellor is able to access a full range of non-verbal communication (such as body language and facial expressions) to help build understanding of what is going on for the client.
Advantages: a neutral setting away from everyday life; a reliable routine; free flowing communication.
Disadvantages: the need to travel somewhere each week; a regular routine; the possibility of feeling uncomfortable sharing difficult emotions in person.
Instant Messaging (IM) - client and counsellor meet in a shared messaging session at an agreed time. Using a keyboard, you hold the conversation by typing messages which are shown on a shared screen and appear instantaneously.
Pros - communication is in real time, you are not seen on screen, no additional equipment (such as webcam or headset) required.
Cons - no non-verbal communication through body language, facial expression or tone of voice, there can sometimes be a feeling of delay while one person is typing.
Email - client and counsellor contract to exchange emails at agreed intervals, usually weekly. The client sends one or more messages to the counsellor, and on the agreed day the counsellor sends a response.
Pros - time to consider your thoughts and only share them when you feel comfortable, messages can be sent at any time that is convenient, messages can be saved and reviewed.
Cons - no non-verbal communication, no immediate feedback or interaction between counsellor and client.
What are the options?
I offer all online sessions through a service called PlusGuidance. PlusGuidance offers a secure encrypted online service that allows clients to connect with counsellors via secure video call, voice call, instant messaging or email. All communication is encrypted and only accessible by the counsellor and client, using data transfer encryption similar to that used by banks and the military, which is why it is much more suitable for counselling than other applications such as Skype or Messenger. Sessions are also paid for through the site. If you would like to see more information, please see my PlusGuidance profile here.
What they have in common...
Whatever the setting, the counselling process will have the same fundamental characteristics....
In online counselling the client and counsellor meet in a secure online environment, which is private, encrypted and can only be accessed by the counsellor and client; both log on from their own computers. Sessions can be booked at any convenient time which the counsellor has available, and at short notice. Depending on the medium chosen the client may be seen on screen (video), just share their voice (audio), or communicate in text only (Instant Messaging or email), which can make it easier to put things into words.
Advantages: no travel; convenient to access and fit in to busy life; flexibility of medium for communication.
Disadvantages: the need to have a computer, good internet connection, and privacy; the potential for technology to fail; limited non-verbal communication.