Online counselling is a burgeoning field that is creating opportunities for more people to get the therapy they need. Online counselling has enormous potential.

It’s endemically human to be sceptical of new things. Our instinctual fear of the unknown is likely what kept us alive for millennia as we “hunted and gathered” for sustenance. However, embracing the unknown is part of a larger cycle of trying something new that has led to all our advancements in every aspect of our humanity, whether the impetus for change was necessity or serendipity. And as individuals, our ability or willingness to engage in the cycle of fear or distrust, trial, acceptance and mastery has led to all of our growth. It’s how we learned to walk, ride bikes, swim, self actualize, love, expand our palettes, etc. In short, getting past our fear of the unknown and trying new things is how we become who we are as human beings individually and collectively. And interestingly enough, with the passage of time, we gain perspective, look back at our trepidation over trying new things and shake our heads wondering, “How did we ever live without (insert new element of experience here) in our daily lives?” Change and growth, so wonderful and necessary!

I remember vividly the discussion around Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR), as I completed my graduate degree in counselling nearly two decades ago. This “body-based” technique employs stimulation of the brain wherein a therapist will guide a client through eye movements, tones, or taps in order to “move” a traumatic memory that has been incorrectly “stored” to a more functional part of the brain. This technique has become very popular because of the clinical research and years of clinical practice that prove its effectiveness. But in the late 90s, EMDR was hotly debated and derided as quackery, pseudo-science or new age hypnotherapy.

This brings me to online counselling, a new method of delivering therapeutic interventions made possible by video-link technology. For many therapists, the idea of not having the client in the room is a non-starter. So much of how we work as clinical therapists is predicated on “social signalling” derived from “being present” with our clients. As clinicians, we have learned to trust the “energy in the room” as a matter of course. The “non-verbal communication” is crucial to the structure of the therapy, even the structure of our very sentences. When I first encountered this idea of “web-based therapeutic intervention” I was indeed sceptical. My initial reaction was “How can I possibly have an authentic experience with a client without having them there?” And yet, like all new things, the passage of time is proving this method of interacting with clients is just as effective as traditional counselling.

In fact, it could be argued that for every concern inherent in the online format (time delay, client suitability, professional training of counsellors, etc.) there are commensurate benefits to the online format such as convenience for hospital or housebound patients, accessibility for clients in remote locations and even increased comfort levels with clients who are “habitually online” through their use of social media. In fact, a recent study in the Journal of Clinical Psychology concluded that “A growing body of knowledge to date is positive in showing that online counselling (sic) can have a similar impact and is capable of replicating the facilitative conditions as face‐to‐face encounters.(Richards and Vigano, 2013)”

There is little doubt that new technologies are having a dramatic impact on how we function as individuals and communicate with each other. Online counselling is a burgeoning field that uses this technology to create more opportunities for more people to get the therapy they need. Despite its relatively recent appearance and inherent technological hurdles, online counselling has enormous potential with a limited downside. Counsellors and clients alike should seriously consider this new mode of therapy as viable alternative for delivering positive therapeutic outcomes. If anything, it is entirely possible that within a decade, we will look back and wonder, “How did we ever do without it?”

Richards, Derek and Vigano, Noemi (2013, April 29). Online Counseling: A Narrative and Critical Review of the Literature. Journal of Clinical Psychology, Volume 69, Issue 9, pp 994-1011.

Peter Persad

About the Author

Peter Persad, B.A., B.Ed., M.A.C., C.C.C.

Peter is an educator and counsellor with nearly three decades of experience helping individuals and families overcome obstacles and realize their potential.