Electronic counseling is here to stay. This form of therapy, where clients and therapists interact through online means that provide chat rooms, video calls, and telephone calls, are increasingly popular. Many of the therapists who work in the online environment also work in traditional, in-person settings. Online therapy offers a number of advantages traditional therapy struggles to match.
Pros of E-Counseling
There are many pros of e-counseling for both the patients and the counselor. Some pros and cons:
Nowadays it seems like everyone is just too busy to do anything. With online counseling, you do not have to worry about setting appointments to work around your schedule or taking time off work. You can literally email or text your counselor anytime of the day, any day of the week. Depending on the particular service you select, your therapist will typically respond within a day. You can also schedule appointments to call, live text or chat, or video chat with your therapist on many e-counseling services available. You can schedule appointments for your lunch break, weekends, or other convenience times that are readily available as therapists in the online setting tend to be more flexible as they work from home.
Accessible to Everyone
People who live in rural areas or those who have difficulties getting around do not have to worry about the long trek to the therapist's office if they use electronic counseling. Until now, those who live far away with no public transportation were unable to get counseling unless they found a way to get to their therapist's office. Those without transportation just had no way to get there and went without therapy.
With electronic counseling, you can use any kind of electronic device like a computer, laptop, tablet, or even a smart phone, to talk or text your therapist from the comfort of your own home. Many of the online therapy websites offer several options such as emailing, instant messaging, chat rooms, and teleconferencing. Now, even those with physical limitations can talk to their therapist when they need to.
Much More Affordable
E-counseling is only a fraction of the cost of traditional face-to-face therapy. Because your counselor does not have to pay for an office, utility bills, and the cost of transportation, your costs for therapy are lower as well. The average cost of e-counseling is $20 to $50 per week rather than the average of $100-$250 per session for traditional in-person counseling. While a traditionally minded counselor will need to rent office space in a discreet and not overly run-down building, one who operates online can potentially work from home. Not only that, but he or she may deal with pending text messages whenever some time is available, rather than having to wait until his patient is physically present.
This can translate into cost savings, while also freeing up more time and resources for patients who need it, rather than assuming every person requires exactly one hour per week of direct-therapist time.
Larger Skill Pool
Few mental conditions exist in a vacuum; a surface phenomenon such as addiction may, in fact, be deeply rooted in childhood trauma or self-esteem issues. In a traditional setting, a therapist may refer a patient to another counselor who's better equipped to help the patient, but a number of complex, interlocking problems can easily strain anyone's specialization.
With e-counseling, experts in any field you can think of may all work under the same umbrella organization, which essentially acts as a referral and auditing service for mental health professionals. With the patient's permission, two or more may easily collaborate in approaching a solution, or the patient may himself choose to see a counselor with a particular skill set.
Few psychologists will allow their private phone number to circulate generally, and for good reason. Online mental health services, however, can offer counseling at anytime, anywhere an internet connection is possible.
Unless an online appointment has been scheduled or the therapist happens to be available, communication between patient and counselor generally takes place in written form. There are handicaps as well as advantages to this: for one, neither the patient nor the therapists feels under any obligation to fill an hour with talk that may verge on the irrelevant; for another, the patient has a chance to think about and analyze what they wish to express.
In addition, many people who would otherwise feel hesitant about contacting a therapist will embrace the anonymity an online relationship offers. Whether due to the perceived stigma surrounding mental illness, or the feelings of shame and fear associated with events like sexual abuse or addiction to illegal drugs, this level of discretion can afford many potential patients the freedom to pursue help.
Of course, everything has its bad points as well. There are some bugs to be worked out, and some people just do not meet the criteria. For example, if you are actively suicidal, are in active crisis, or in psychosis, counseling via the internet isn't the best option for you.
May Not Be Covered by Insurance
Unfortunately, some insurance companies still do not cover online therapy of any kind. However, as the popularity of e-counseling continues to rise, more and more insurers are realizing that it benefits them as much as it benefits you. All insurance companies are different, and some do not have mental health coverage at all. With time, the majority of large healthcare companies are expected to provide some type of coverage for e-counseling.
Risk of Confidentiality
With all of the questions about privacy and hackers online, there is always the risk of confidentiality. It is ultimately up to you to make sure your communications are safe. That means not using public internet services such as at a coffee shop, motel, or library. If you are communicating with your therapist online through your phone or tablet using email, instant messaging, or another internet communication, you have to be careful that you are on a private internet service. The good news is that reputable, licensed therapists use secure technology, and will take precautions to protect what you share through the website or therapy service they use with you.
Lack of Nonverbal Communication
This is a disadvantage in some cases because the counselor or therapist cannot see your body language as he or she could if you were in a traditional face-to-face therapy session. However, if you use video chat, you will be able to see each other and that will eliminate that problem.