From shopping to socialising, and now even to mental health support, the internet is becoming a central part of our everyday lives. It’s only natural that many of the things we used to do in person are now being done online. During the pandemic in particular, online services became incredibly important for those who weren’t able to attend medical appointments, meetings, or even catch up with friends in person. Another service that is increasingly being offered digitally is counselling online, also called telehealth. But what exactly is online counselling, and should you try it? Let’s take a closer look at what it means.
What is counselling online?
Counselling online is a form of therapy that happens over the internet rather than in person. Clients and therapists meet through video chats via platforms like Skype or Zoom, emails, or instant messaging to discuss the client’s mental health, goals, and challenges. This digital approach allows people to seek help from the comfort of their own home or place of their choosing, which can be particularly beneficial for those with mobility issues, busy schedules, or those living in remote areas. Just like an in-person appointment, your counsellor will use their therapeutic approach to get to the heart of things you’re struggling with and develop strategies to overcome them.
The benefits of online counselling
One of the biggest advantages of counselling online is the convenience it offers. You can schedule sessions to suit your timetable, and you don’t need to factor in things like travel time. This flexibility can make therapy more accessible to people who may have been unable to attend traditional in-person sessions due to time or travel constraints. It also means you can attend your sessions even if you’re suffering from a cold or flu and want to avoid spreading germs (although that’s a personal choice and you might prefer to rest!).
Another benefit is the possibility of increased comfort. For some, the idea of sitting in a counsellor’s office can feel intimidating. Being able to communicate from your own familiar environment; for some this can make the process feel less daunting and help you to open up more easily.
Online counselling also allows for greater choice in therapists, as you’re no longer limited to practitioners in your local area. Instead, you can choose a therapist who specialises in your specific needs, no matter where they are based. This also means that, if you’re already seeing a therapist, you can continue to see them if you or they move to another location.
Potential drawbacks of counselling online
Whilst there are many benefits to counselling online, it’s also important to consider the potential drawbacks. The therapeutic relationship can be slightly different online than in-person, with some people finding it harder to connect through a screen.
Technical issues can also be a hurdle. A slow or unreliable internet connection can interrupt your sessions and disrupt the flow of conversation. Additionally, privacy can be a concern. It’s crucial to ensure that your therapist uses a secure platform to maintain your confidentiality. Not sure? Just ask them!
Lastly, online therapy might not be suitable for those with severe mental health issues. In these cases, in-person treatment might be more effective. This is something you should talk to your counsellor about, and discover which is the most suitable approach for your circumstances.
Who can benefit from counselling online?
Counselling online can be incredibly beneficial for a variety of people, including:
Busy professionals: For professionals juggling a demanding job and long working hours, finding time to visit a counsellor’s office can be challenging. Online counselling may fit more easily into a busy schedule, allowing sessions during your breaks or even after traditional office hours (depending on your counsellor’s working hours).
Parents and caregivers: Those caring for young children, elderly parents, or loved ones with special needs often struggle to find personal time, let alone time for counselling. Online counselling enables people to access therapy from home, eliminating the need for childcare, support care, or juggling logistics like travel.
Individuals in remote areas: For those living in remote or rural areas, access to mental health services can be limited. Online counselling breaks down these geographical barriers, providing access to a wide range of specialists that might not be locally available.
Those with mobility issues: Physical disabilities, chronic illness, or even temporary mobility issues can make attending in-person counselling sessions a challenge. Online counselling ensures that everyone has access to mental health support, regardless of physical or logistical limitations.
Individuals with anxiety disorders: People dealing with anxiety disorders, particularly social anxiety or agoraphobia, may find the prospect of leaving their home and traveling to a counsellor’s office pretty daunting. If this sounds like you, online counselling will allow you to take part in therapy in a safe and comfortable environment like your home.
Expats and travellers: For those living abroad or frequently travelling, finding a therapist and maintaining consistent sessions with a single counsellor can be difficult. Online counselling allows for continuity of care, regardless of your location or how often you move around. It also means being able to talk with a counsellor from your home country, when language or cultural barriers might be a struggle in some overseas locations.
How counselling online differs from in-person therapy
One of the most significant differences between online and in-person therapy is the lack of physical presence. This can affect the sense of connection with your therapist. Some people find it easier to open up when they’re not in the same room, for example, while others feel the connection is less deep and helpful. The nature of online communication might also mean that some non-verbal cues or body language get missed. However, experienced online therapists are trained to pick up on subtleties in your tone of voice, pace of speech, and facial expressions. With an experienced counsellor who offers online sessions, you should feel safe knowing that they are professionals and understand how to make an online session just as beneficial for you as an in-person one.
On the plus side, the convenience and accessibility of online counselling can affect the therapy process in positive ways. Being able to access therapy from the comfort of your own home can make it feel more integrated into your everyday life, which you may find beneficial.