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Online Counselling. Is it for me?

Online Counselling

Online counselling has quickly become quite popular yet many people still have a lot of reservations around it, which is understandable. It feels new and different and that can make people feel uncertain and concerned.

So, I thought, why not write a blog around my method of online counselling – video calls; and how it works so that you might feel a little more informed and a little less uncertain.

I’ve also written about some of the advantages of online counselling as well as some of the concerns people may have around this method, with an explanation of what I have done to try and mitigate those concerns.

This allows you, the reader and potential client to have the information you need in order to decide whether you would like to work with me via my chosen method.

(NB: There are many different forms of online counselling but I will be looking at video calls as this is the method that I use in my practice).

Ok, let’s begin.

HOW DOES ONLINE COUNSELLING WORK:

Online counselling is actually pretty simple. All you require is:

  • Yourself,
  • Basic computer skills,
  • Internet access,
  • A device that connects to the internet, that has a webcam & mic (phone/ tablet/ laptop/PC),
  • A private space of your choice (allowing for confidential communication).

You would start off by booking a consultation/session via the FEES & BOOKINGS page and in your confirmation email you would receive a link that you would need to click on the day and time of your session. This link would be for the video calling software that the counsellor has chosen (currently I use Zoom).

Clicking the link would automatically open up the video calling software from your internet browser and this will allow you to have the session with the counsellor. During the session you and your counsellor, will both be able to see and hear each other.

It’s as simple as that.

Now, whether it is for you or not; that is a separate discussion. To help you make this decision, I will explain the pros and cons of this method of counselling and then leave the choice to you, because the truth is, that it will always be your choice to make as to whether you choose me and my method.

Let’s look at the PROS first.

1. Ease of use: Once you’ve got to grips with the software, online counselling is pretty easy. You click a link, and the video calling software opens up and you’re ready to go.

2. Convenience: As your counselling session is online, you can book an appointment around your busy schedule. You also wouldn’t need to miss out on a counselling session just because you have to be out of town, as you won’t have to travel to a specific location to have your sessions. This allows you to have regular sessions and opens up more choice around timings of sessions.

3. No travel time or costs: With online counselling, the location is of your choice (as long as it fits the criteria for confidentiality of sessions). The time used for travel can be used to prepare for your counselling session (if you like).

4. Larger choice of counsellors: Due to not being restricted by physical location, you would have an increased and more varied list of qualified counsellors that you could work with.

5. Comfort: You get to choose a familiar setting where you will have your counselling sessions and therefore can feel more grounded & safer, which I believe tends to help you be more open within your sessions. Some say that online counselling feels less intimidating than face to face counselling.

6. Removes fear of others finding out: Many people struggle with the fear of being seen by others when going for face to face counselling. With online counselling, you won’t be bumping into anyone in the waiting room or pass anyone as you walk out of the counselling room.

That’s all the positives I can think of at this point in time. Now let’s look at the CONS as well as an explanation of what I try and do in my practice to try and reduce or minimise those concerns.

1. Technology failure: The biggest issue for online counselling is lost internet signal or microphone/video issues.

My practice:

  • I don’t use Wi-Fi and instead use an ethernet cable (hard wired connection) in my router. This allows much more reliable access to the internet and so less chances of lost connections.

  • I have invested in a high-quality webcam with optimised settings to reduce any issues.

  • I also have a contingency plan in my contract for what we would do if we were to lose connection.

2. Limitations: Online counselling isn’t suited for complex psychiatric mental health issues (e.g schizophrenia) or for some counselling approaches (e.g EMDR therapy). For such situations, face to face counselling is recommended, if not necessary.

My practice:

  • I am highly aware of my own limitations as a counsellor due to my qualifications and training and so do not offer such approaches within my practice. I also make sure to check with potential clients during an initial consultation and again during the initial session about any psychiatric diagnosis (whether historic or current), and would gently refer them on to appropriate organisations (usually their GP who could then refer them to appropriate support).

3. Unsafe “counsellors”: Due to the online world being what it is, there is a chance of working with a person who fraudulently claims to be a counsellor or who has limited or no qualifications or experience & may attempt to rip you off.

My practice:

  • I’m registered with both the BACP (British Association of Counselling & Psychotherapy) as well as with the ICO (Information Comissioners Office) and have these details widely available on my website so that anyone can verify them. My qualifications are also openly listed on my website (and the BACP does not allow registration without evidence of qualifications).

  • I do not accept cash. All payments are taken via The Congruent Counsellor Ltd website (currently via Stripe) and are received in The Congruent Counsellor Ltd business bank account.

4. Screen rather than “real life”: Counsellors use and rely on body language and non-verbal cues as part of the counselling work and these could get missed or misinterpreted by both client and counsellor.

My practice:

  • Let’s be real here. Online counselling IS different to face to face counselling, and CBT therapy is different to talking therapy yet neither is better or worse than the other; they’re just different. Different does not always mean bad.

  • As an ethical counsellor, I am aware of the differences between online and face to face counselling (and the dangers of some things that could be missed or misinterpreted), and therefore I have completed an additional extensive (80 hours!) training on online counselling so that I can be confident and competent in offering online counselling sessions. Again, the evidence for this is on my website displayed as a badge awarded by Counselling Tutor.

5. Lack of response to crisis situations: The sessions are held with the client and counsellor being at different locations. This means that if a client was to experience a crisis situation then the counsellor is not there physically and therefore cannot help the client.

My practice:

  • Now this one can be a struggle without a doubt. In order to reduce risk of something awful happening, I have a clause in my contract that states that the client MUST give me the full address of their location of choice for counselling sessions and if that location changes, then they must inform me in writing at the time of booking their session. The reason for this is so that IF an emergency was to take place, then as a counsellor I would need to prioritise the client’s safety and contact emergency services and provide them with the address of the client. (This is included in the contract, under confidentiality).

  • In terms of suicidal ideation, I explore this with my client in detail in their initial session and if they are at high risk then I would need to prioritise the client’s safety and contact their GP. (Also included in the contract, under confidentiality).

6. Privacy & confidentiality issues: Although Zoom is encrypted, it also holds the key to decrypt the video calls. This means that there are privacy & confidentiality concerns:

(1): If sessions are recorded (using Zoom’s recording facility), then Zoom has the ability to access them.

(2): During a session, Zoom can jump on the video call and listen in.

(3): If a client accesses the zoom video call by dialling in using the telephone number for that particular video call session instead of using the link provided, then the video call would not be encrypted.

(4): Zoom could get hacked.

My practice:

  • I, as a counsellor cannot take responsibility for Zoom as it is a third-party software, however I can reduce the risk as much as possible from my end and I do that by making sure that:

(1): I do not record sessions. This can easily be verified by the client as Zoom clearly shows when a video call is being recorded.

(2): Although I could not stop this from happening, it cannot be done without the host becoming aware of it as it will show up on their participant list, in which case I would immediately stop the session. (I’ve used Zoom for over a year now and this has never happened. However, I also keep the notification sound switched on in my sessions so that IF anyone jumped into the video call, I would know immediately).

(3): I send client’s a link for them to access the video call and not the telephone numbers to dial in. IF a client prefers to dial in then they would need to put this request in writing and would need to accept that the call would not be encrypted.

(4): I reduce the risk by having unique links sent, not just for each client but also for each session of each client (therefore a client could not use the same link they used for their previous session).

  • All of the above steps help reduce NOT remove the risk of privacy issues. It will be for the client to decide whether this is acceptable for them or not.

Now I know that’s A LOT of information! I get that. However, although it is a lot to digest, it also puts you in a better position to make a decision around whether online counselling will work for you.

I hope that reading this has helped. Feel free to let me know your thoughts in the comments below or send me a message via the CONTACT ME page.

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