Recently, I came across a new study out of the University of Zurich that looked at groups of people suffering from moderate depression, comparing traditional face-to-face counseling with online counseling. Those clients who participated in online counseling had larger decreases of depression. I am fascinated by this topic, as I completed my masters of social work online at the University of Southern California. This past May I finally got the chance to meet many of my classmates and professors, and I can honestly say their personalities, values, and passions had definitely come across online and in meeting face to face – the only surprise was that we could all see who was taller than who.
Back to the study — participants from the online group found they were able to review feedback from their therapist after the sessions were over, as opposed to face-to-face counseling, where insights from a therapist can quickly be forgotten. The article I read didn’t really highlight any other possible explanations for the benefits of online counseling; however, I will elaborate on why I think this may be the case. Online counseling is convenient. No longer do clients have to drive to appointments or commute long distances. This also enables clients to find a therapist who comes highly recommended, even if they live outside of the therapist’s area. Online counseling also can benefit those with a range of disabilities for whom transportation is difficult or may not have access to the counseling space itself.
Another possible benefit of online counseling is that some people may disclose more personal information if they have a little more physical distance, which can allow for more in-depth therapeutic work. It also may provide a people with access to counseling during a wider range of hours. For instance, I am sharing an office space with a colleague. Providing sessions online will allow me to meet with people during the days she needs the office. Also, it allows the client and me to better select a time that works for both of us – optimizing the client’s experience.
Online consultation can allow more opportunity to reflect on what is being said, to think about it and ask further questions. However like anything, there are also disadvantages to online counseling. Being online has its confidentiality risks due to the potential for a computer security breach. There is a greater chance of miscommunication between client and therapist, as the therapist does not have the same access to body language information and other non-verbal cues. Online counselors are not ethically able to work with people in immediate crisis or with serious psychiatric illness. Additionally, an unreliable internet connection may interrupt the flow and delivery of therapy.
For those who understand the risks and benefits of online counseling, this could be a viable option when trying to find time for counseling with a professional of your choice. I look forward to working with clients via Skype and will stay informed of current research on this type of support and welcome feedback from current and future clients and colleagues.