When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit British Columbia, everyone from doctors to counsellors to physiotherapists started offering their services online. Many of us quickly adapted to this virtual form of treatment, and some found that they even preferred it. While online health and mental health services, or ‘telehealth’, may seem like a recent development, the Nebraska Psychiatric Institute began using closed-circuit televisions to provide group and individual therapy from a distance as early as 1959!
Through the years our technology has become more advanced, telehealth has become more common, and a great amount of research and experience with online mental health services have revealed the advantages and disadvantages of meeting with a counsellor online through a video counselling format.
Many studies have found that online video counselling is just as effective as traditional, face-to-face counselling. The therapeutic alliance, meaning the connection, trust, and agreement between client and counsellor, has been shown to be one of the most important factors for a successful counselling experience. Research has found that the quality and strength of therapeutic alliances developed through video counselling are similar to those developed through in-person sessions. This is true even for participants who were initially skeptical or uncomfortable with the video counselling format.
What’s great about online counselling is that it is available to those who may have trouble accessing in-person services for a variety of reasons.
Whether you live in a rural location with limited mental health supports, have a physical disability that makes it challenging to travel to appointments, or feel completely overwhelmed at the thought of leaving your home, being in an unfamiliar environment, or meeting with someone in-person, online counselling makes it possible to access the support you need.
Online counselling is also extremely convenient. No more catching a bus, waiting in traffic, or searching for parking before your appointments. With the click of a button you’re meeting with a counsellor from the comfort of your own home. It is also perfect for those with busy schedules, as it is not necessary to carve out any extra time for commuting.
While seeing a counsellor is nothing to be ashamed of, many people wish to keep their attendance private. Online counselling ensures that you won’t run in to anyone you know at your counsellor’s office, and no one will see you coming or going from your appointments. It is particularly helpful for those who live in small towns that may already have a personal connection to the few counsellors available. CONS Technical Difficulties
One drawback of online counselling is that technical difficulties are bound to happen from time to time. Your WiFi may cut out, your Bluetooth headphones might disconnect, or your counsellor’s face could become frozen on your screen. While many counsellors will ensure that time lost to technical difficulties is made up for, it can definitely be distressing to have a technological mishap in the middle of a vulnerable moment or an intense session.
Not for Everyone
Online counselling is not suitable for everyone. If you are experiencing a serious psychiatric illness or symptoms that compromise the safety of yourself or others, more intensive, in-person treatment is required.
It Feels Different
Whether you are speaking with a friend, family member, or professional over video chat, there’s no doubt that it feels different than if you were together in person. Even with our current video technology, certain aspects of human connection, like eye contact or an understanding silence, aren’t quite the same online. While online counselling may not be the right fit for everyone, it is an effective, accessible, convenient, and discreet way for people to get the mental health support they need. If you are interested in trying online counselling but still have some questions, you can book a free video consultation to see if it is right for you!
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Mishna, F., Bogo, M. & Sawyer, J. (2013). Cyber counseling: Illuminating benefits and challenges. Clinical Social Work Journal, 43, 169–178. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10615-013-0470-1
Perle, J. G., Langsam, L. C. & Nierenberg, B. (2011). Controversy clarified: An updated review of clinical psychology and tele-health. Clinical Psychology Review, 31(8),1247-1258. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2011.08.003
Wagner, B., Horn, A. B. & Maercker, A. (2014). Internet-based versus face-to-face cognitive-behavioural intervention for depression: A randomized controlled non-inferiority trial. Journal of Affective Disorders, 152-154, 113-121. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2013.06.032