Online Counseling – Who is Choosing It?

By September 4, 2014 Blog

Angel and David are committed to their marriage, but have noticed mounting tension since Angel’s responsibilities at work changed, requiring him to spend the better part of his day at company headquarters in Cupertino.  Their friend recommended a great couples counselor but they’re wondering how they can fit sessions into their already packed schedule.

Caitlyn recently moved to San Diego for medical school.  She’s feeling motivated and happier than ever.  She tells her friends that she couldn’t have gotten this far without the support of her therapist in San Francisco.  She thought she was ready to end her sessions, but with the stress of adjusting to her new life, she finds herself wishing they could stay connected.

After mourning their baby sister’s death, Meredith and her brothers realized a common desire to understand how traumatic events in their childhood impact their familial relationships.  After a long email chain trying to coordinate a meeting with a family therapist they finally gave up.  It was just too hard to get everyone in the same room at the same time.

In many cases people like Angel, Caitlyn, and Meredith, find themselves willing and eager to participate in therapy, but unable to visit their therapist of choice for live sessions.  In response to the need for more accessibility, growing numbers of therapists have begun to offer online counseling through readily available video conferencing tools.  Also know as telepsychology or e-therapy, the practice of online counseling is relatively new. However, studies like this one completed at the University of Zurich  point to its effectiveness.  In this controlled study, online counseling was found to be equally, if not more, effective than traditional in-person counseling.

While online counseling is effective and convenient, it’s not for everyone.  In some cases, the camera simply can’t reproduce the exchange of non-verbal signals that vitalize and inform the relationship between a therapist and a client.  Like an ultra-sensitive mirror, a trained therapist is taught to discern and reflect subtle changes in body language and physiological responses.  Further, the simple act of maintaining eye contact while recounting personal experiences can in itself create trust.  In order to create a stronger sense of safety, some clients prefer to start with one or two sessions in person and then transition to an online format.  On the other hand, there are those who see online counseling as a low pressure way to gauge if a therapist will be a good fit for their needs.

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