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  • Jan-Paul Van Dessel

Online Counselling, does it really work?

In terms of my own network of counselling peers, almost all of them have made the adaptation to offer a form of remote service. That is not something I had ever prepared for when I originally trained, and all the text books and practices of that time reflected scenarios where we would be face to face. So I am learning too, which is great! Learning not just about the technology itself, but the impact that can have on the counselling process, and regulatory matters too such as Data Protection.


There have been many studies, some of which were completed long before this pandemic, that scientifically measure the effectiveness of online/remote counselling versus face to face. As a general summary it would suggest that clients have equally good outcomes, that it is effective and that client and counsellor can create strong and meaningful therapeutic alliances.


If you are considering online counselling as something that can help you in your life just now, there are some things that you can consider and prepare to help you feel ready to get the best from that experience.

  1. Technology & You - think about how confident you are using some of the technology already, (e.g. computers, laptops, tablets and smart/internet mobile phones) and are there ways you could increase your confidence if needed? You might find that your counsellor will prefer to use secure platforms such as Zoom or other secure video conference software to protect you and what you share with each other. Simple things like having a set of headphones that work with your choice of equipment, and a way to keep your device in place without having to hold it in your hand to keep it steady for 50/60 minutes. A comfortable seat, effective lighting and perhaps some water or a tea/coffee ready before you sign in.

  2. Place & Time - I would recommend that you fully consider the level of privacy in your chosen place and measure your sense of how freely you can speak (and listen). If you think you could be overheard accidentally, or intentionally eavesdropped, then your choice of environment may not be sufficiently private for you. Make every attempt to avoid interruptions reaching you, from others or from technology (e.g. place a sign on your door, mute phones etc, find a time when only you are there). In my experience some of the greatest breakthroughs that can be made in counselling often come from breaking long held silences, or speaking out loud for the first time about new personal insights/discoveries. Allowing some time for yourself after the session to reflect or make some journal notes can be useful, just like the time you might have if you were travelling back from a face to face session.

  3. Feeling Safe - we are often our own best guardians and understand our own limits (and potential) better than anyone else. Thinking about the issue you are approaching through counselling, ask yourself 'do I feel safe doing this online? will I feel I have enough support?'. Exploring such questions with your counsellor as you begin and then progress through sessions together will help each of you ensure that your safety and wellbeing stay top of the list of priorities.

The BACP (with whom I am registered) have some more detailed information that you can access on the topic of Online Counselling and how you can get the most of it on this link


So perhaps a better question to ask is Online Counselling, Can it work for you? and the answer is only you will be able to answer that, but there are certainly things that you can do that will help you be in the best possible position for that answer to be 'Yes!'. Likewise I will be doing everything I can to make Online Counselling through my practice the very best it can be.






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