Benefits of online counselling

Why do people choose to engage in counselling online? Below are some of the benefits of using this medium, rather than a face to face service.

  • Anonymity: Some people feel safer and are able to be more open in a “Virtual Room” than in face to face counselling, which can be confronting for some.
  • Convenience: There may be greater flexibility and options in appointments. This means that you may be able to focus more fully on the counselling process due to it being at a time and place that suits you.
  • Time efficiency: No need to take time off work or travel anywhere.
  • Accessibility: Offers increased access to services from rural and remote locations or to people who are unable to leave their homes or travel to an office. Also very convenient for people who travel extensively, as it can be accessed from anywhere you happen to be.
  • Cost-effectiveness: Often it is less costly than face-to-face counselling. Further, travel costs, child-care costs, and taking time off from work can generally be avoided.
  • Easy to try: If you have never been to counselling before, feel ambivalent about it, or are uncomfortable with the idea of traditional models of counselling, online counselling can give you the opportunity to see what it might be like, without actually having to meet anyone in person.

Limitations of online counselling

Unfortunately, not all issues are appropriate to deal with online. Some of the limitations of online counselling mean it is simply not a suitable medium to deal with crisis situations. For example:

  • If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, online counselling is no replacement for getting urgently needed help.
  • Similarly, if you are currently experiencing or at risk of violence or abuse there is a limit to the amount of support a counsellor online can provide.

It is important to get in touch with someone who, if necessary, can offer you the practical support you may need.

  • Lifeline is available 24 hours a day on 13 11 14
  • Kids Helpline is available 24 hours a day for kids, teenagers and young adults on 1800 55 1800
  • Suicide call back service 1300 659 467  A service for people who are suicidal, people caring for someone who is suicidal, and people bereaved by suicide
  • DV Connect provides free help for women, men, children and pets affected by domestic and family violence across Australia.
    • Womensline is for women, children and young people; available 24 hours a day on 1800 811 811
    • Mensline is for men, available 9am – midnight on 1800 600 636
  • Read more information about what to do in a crisis

What else?

The limitations of online counselling should not stop you from seeking help here, however be aware that counsellors may offer you a referral to a more appropriate service. Even if the above issues do not apply to you and you think online counselling would be appropriate, there may be further limitations of online counselling that would not be an issue in face-to-face counselling. For example:

Text based communications are simply not as smooth and detailed as verbal communications, which may lead to more misunderstandings or less insight. Both client and counsellor would say more in a face to face situation than when typing – it is simply easier to speak than it is to type.

Non-verbal cues normally present in a conversation are not accessible, increasing the risk of misinterpretation for both client and counsellor. People usually skilled in how to communicate and read tone, feeling, humour, etc. will find these skills simply do not apply in online communications.

In face to face counselling the counselling office environment will generally ensure privacy and lack of interruption to a session. If you’re participating in a session from home you could be subject to different interruptions that could disrupt the session or threaten your privacy.

Security may be an issue. While counsellors do all they can to keep the content of your sessions secure, some Internet communications, particularly email messages, may be vulnerable to interception by third parties.

Technology can be unreliable. Computer and computer network issues can result in lags in response time, connection failures, message delivery failure, disruption to audio or video, or even system crashes. Despite policies in place addressing these issues, they can still cause huge disruption to the counselling process.

Finally, it is difficult at present to make any definitive statements about the efficacy of online counselling. Many studies have found online counselling and therapy to be effective for a wide range of issues, however when compared to face-to-face counselling it is often found to be not as effective, perhaps due to some of the issues listed above. Therefore, it is an important factor to consider when choosing your mode of counselling.

Minimising these issues

That may sound like a lot of potential problems for online counselling, however there are ways to minimise the impact they have on your experience.

Since text based counselling lacks nonverbal cues, if you are unsure by what a counsellor means, please don’t hesitate to ask for confirmation of meaning, especially if you feel it is challenging or potentially offensive.

Utilise emoticons where possible, especially when saying something light hearted.

Set aside time and space in your house so that it is unlikely you will be interrupted or overheard.

Find suitable antivirus software and keep your passwords private. If your computer has multiple users, consider creating separate user accounts. Read a detailed list of ways to ensure security and privacy of your data.

Have a backup plan. If counselling finishes unexpectedly, do you have a plan for readjusting to an unfinished session? Take some time to look after yourself, for example leave some time before you engage in other commitments such as work.


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