Online Counselling

Counselling over the Internet offers many advantages and has a kind of charm that attracts more and more people interested in this form of mental health services. Probably the most important are the following features:

  • The flexibility of time and place/virtual space. The online therapist can usually easily offer flexible and convenient dates and times.
  • Security. You can protect your data, and do not even have to show your face if you choose the option of contact without video camera contact.
  • Convenience. You can decide about where you meet with a therapist for a session (home, Internet café, or even somewhere in the city where you can access the network).
  • The online counseling process usually progresses faster, because it’s easier to open up and to analyze personal difficulties.
  • There are some limitations however, mainly of a technical nature, and the fact that non-verbal clues could be limited, if a client decides not to use the camera.
  • Certain mental health issues are not eligible for online counselling. Please check the link ‘Risk groups’.

Psychology of the Internet Ben-Ze’ev (Ben-Zeev, 2005), argues that the charm of the Internet lies in the availability of the network, imagination, interactivity and anonymity.

  • Availability in cyberspace promises rapid entering into an alternate reality, enabling easy use of many options readily available within a reach of click. Finding a person and performing a certain action is simpler, inexpensive, and requires no effort.
  • Imagination makes the Internet attractive and with no restrictions (apart from the technological constraints), which means that usually the exchange of messages between Internet users is more dynamic, bolder and direct.
  • Interactivity in the world of online contacts is a true revolution in human relationships because you can fully enjoy the benefits of free and limitless contacts, while not investing much effort and quickly reaching its objectives.
  • Anonymity reduces the risks associated with the personal disclosure taking place in the cyberspace, reducing susceptibility to psychological injury.

“Triple A Engine” (Cooper, 1998, Cooper, Griffin-Shelley, 2002; Cooper et al, 2003). Cooper has described this kind of attraction to the Internet by coining the term ‘Triple A engine “:

  • Accessibility (easy access)
  • Affordability (affordable access)
  • Anonymity

These three features of the Internet attract majority of people who are happy to use regularly electronic communication. Other researchers often point out two further features of online communication such as:

  • Acceptability (wide acceptance of the Internet) (King, 1999),
  • Approximation (the possibility of trying to function in a variety of roles) (Ross & Kauth, 2002)

Especially the latter feature – the possibility of trying to experiment with different roles and contexts, without the risk of social consequences, attracts a lot of people wanting to try ‘living other lives. “

  • The technology of communication on the Internet is a key issue in the context of psychological and sexological online counselling. Online counselling  is a professional field where you almost are not able to separate the content of intervention from the tools required, because the same technology utilized to communicate on the Internet is the medium, which delivers the therapeutic message in such a way that without exception it combines these two aspects of the phenomenon.
  • At the moment, despite the enormous progress,  technology still continues to impact the quality of interaction in the online setting.
  • There may happen technical difficulties in communicably ambiguous situations or the diruptions, which should be considered pretty normal from time to time and even anticipated occasionally when working online.
  • Sometimes, the clients personify the computer as a third person in the therapeutic interaction, or blame a therapist for any technical limitations, or even they believe it is a deliberate act of the psychologist. Especially novice computer users “newbies” with little experience online, can easily be distracted by technical difficulties, and they may feel that contact with the therapist seems to be elusive and psychologically distant.
  • In order to minimize the psychological risk of online technology-related stress, many counsellors introduce two different connection options: preferred channel and alternative channel.
  • Preferred channel is the one that usually client chooses to communicate online, and it is his/her primary medium, when online connection is working properly. It could be email, texting, audio, video connection, Skype, etc.
  • Alternative channel is considered emergency communication channel, which is used when primary channel is not working.  This could be email (if this is not the preferred channel), smart phone, land-line phone or mobile phone.
  • Professional online therapist always offers the preferred channel and alternative emergency communication channel.
Potential online counselling clients can be devided broadly into two groups:
  • People who for certain reasons, have limited opportunity to see a health professional in traditional face-to-face setting.
  • People who for certain reasons, prefer contact via the Internet.
These two groups include:
  • Persons who, because of the strong and negative emotions, including fear, shame and embarrassment related to their problem, find it extremely difficult to initiate the direct contact with the therapist, and in such cases the Internet is a very safe way to reducing the undesired exposure. This situation may be particularly beneficial in the area of ​​sexual problems and difficulties, and any other issues that are more likely to trigger strong emotional reactions.
  • Full-time parents staying at home with little children. More and more clients are full-time mums, who find it challenging to leave home for a few hours.
  • People whose working hours make it impossible to see a therapist during regularoffice hours.
  • Young people, because the Internet communication to them is as natural as traditional face-to-face contact.
  • People with physical disabilities and people confined to bed.
  • Hearing impaired people.
  • The blind.
  • Those living in the rural and remote areas, virtually with no access to counseling services.
  • Individuals who are surrounded by other people strongly and negatively labeling seeking psychological help, and to them counseling over the Internet is a safe and much less socially (family, friends) confronting option.
  • People who are personally acquainted with therapists available locally (the same town), and in such cases the Internet counselling allows avoiding the conflict of interest and secure the confidentiality.
  • Imprisoned people, who may utilize online therapy as an additional opportunity while being in the rehabilitation program.
  • The therapist should always assess first whether the person in question is qualified for an online counselling, or he/she should be refereed to the face-to-face professional health services.

There are potential clients, who belong to the risk groups, and a counselor may chose not to work online, because face-to-face sessions may be a more suitable option in such cases.

  1. People with suicidal ideation and suicidal plans
  2. Moderate and severe depression
  3. Psychotic patients, who need psychiatric treatment
  4. Alcohol and drug abusers/addicts
  5. People who undergo medical treatments and require close monitoring
  6. Persons with very poor communication skill and texting skills.  In such a case online Skype conversation is more preferable option.
  7. Minors.  In such a case the therapist will require the signed consent from a parent/legal guardian.
  8. People who need deeper forms of therapeutic interventions.
If a client belongs to one of above categories, it does not mean that he/she will be referred to face-to-face session automatically; however, one may expect that a therapist will spend more time on the assessment stage and evaluation process of pros and cons of online counseling. In such cases, the final decision will depend on the chief complaint, presented problem and psychological resources of the client
  • Personal development
  • Difficulties in achieving important goals
  • Decision-making dilemmas
  • Difficulties in social interactions and social dissatisfaction
  • Difficulties in adapting to the new cultural environment and acculturative stress
  • Emotional problems, self-dissatisfaction and low self-esteem
  • The sense of loneliness, the lack of partner
  • Sex education and psychosexual functioning assessment
  • Sexual health and sexual risk assessment
  • Difficulties in sexual performance and sexual dysfunctions
  • S​exual communication problems
  • Relationship issues
  • Relationship issues in the international couples
  • Emotional trauma, sexual abuse
  • Confidentiality and high professional ethics
  • Flexible appointments (including non-standard hours)
  • High qualifications in psychology and sexuality studies
  • International recognition of qualifications and training (Australian Psychological Society; The National Council of Psychotherapists, United Kingdom; Australian Society of Sex Educators, Researchers and Therapists NSW; Polish Sexological Society)
  • Over 17 years of work experience in Poland, Australia, Singapore and Japan
  • International academic career
  • Ongoing clinical supervision