The Benefits Of Online Mental Health Counseling
By Sarah Fader
Updated January 15, 2019
Reviewer Tanya Harell
Despite the welcome advances awareness of mental health matters over the past decade or two, an enormous number of people who can benefit from professional assistance still do not have easy access to talk therapy. This is especially damaging in the case of problems where "a stitch in time" can avert much more serious issues, such as in the case of addiction or relationship troubles. Fortunately, the increasing popularity of online mental health counseling is improving the situation, bringing essential mental healthcare within the reach of more and more people.
According to the American Psychological Association (2019), therapy delivered via telecommunication devices is often referred to as telepsychology. It is often also referred to as web therapy, phone therapy, text therapy or online therapy. The availability of mental health care providers via telecommunication and the web has provided amazing opportunities to prevent problems and help people who may not otherwise receive help or who may fall through the cracks with regard to mental health service provision.
Although the world of therapy and counseling can be difficult to navigate, and finding the right therapist may take some effort…the payoff is excellent. Online therapy provides opportunities for choice and connection in therapy that has not been present before now. The communication takes place with your online therapist through a counseling room that is very confidential and private. The discussion you have with your therapist is "asynchronous" which means not in real time which allows you to communicate at your own convenience. However, therapists do provide synchronal chat sessions in which an issue or problem can be addressed through a discussion over an hour or a typical time period. The perceived availability of the therapist may also enhance the client's ability to incorporate the therapist's presence into daily life. Rather than waiting for the weekly in-person session to discuss an issue, the client can instead write the therapist an email while the issue is still active, thereby evoking the therapist's psychological presence at the moment. This means that the client and the counselor are connected more frequently throughout the week and the relationship continues to evolve past the 1 time a week session that is typical of traditional counseling relationships.
A Wider Reach
A person who experiences a mental health issues should have access to a qualified therapist, regardless of their geographical location. However, due to location limitations or possible stigma associated with seeking help, physically going to a counselor or therapist may not always be possible. Online counseling provides a viable option for people who live in remote areas, travel often for their jobs and those who live in foreign countries. Sometimes, online counseling is much cheaper than conventional therapy sessions and those who choose online counseling may do so simply due to financial feasibility.
People come to counseling for a number of different reasons. Some need help with relationships, while others simply want to feel better and less sad. Some need to work on anger issues, while others seek help with managing their time. Whatever the reason to seek therapy, there are so many different types of people who would benefit from online counseling/therapy. Some people experience some pretty severe disabilities that limit their access to mental health services. Individuals who are physically disabled may experience a great benefit from online counseling and therapy.
There is an incredible level of anonymity associated with online counseling and therapy. Those who seek online counseling may do so due to the anonymity associated with it. Often times people who experience the shame associated with sexual assault or domestic violence, find solace in an online therapist who can help the client get to the heart of the issue and move toward healing. People feel safe with their online therapist. Safety and confidentiality are important parts of building a strong therapeutic relationship.
Even if a person opts for traditional, face to face counseling, he will likely search for a suitable therapist online. He might be looking for a mental health professional with a particular specialization, such as treating depression, but while a local therapist may indicate what conditions he is capable of treating, this gives little indication of whether or not a particular patient will "click" with this counselor. Typically, a website advertising a psychologist's practice will not display the rates charged with any kind of prominence, which by itself may be enough to discourage potential patients who happen to be in poor shape financially.
Online mental health counseling offers a detour around many of these difficulties. A large pool of therapists is available to match a patient, comprising any specialization you can think of, and switching from one to another is basically effortless. Whether you seek a therapist trained in cognitive Behavioral Therapy or one trained in mindfulness, online therapy programs can match you with one to meet your specific needs. Online counseling is affordable but may not always be covered by health insurance. Fees are extremely affordable compared to therapy in a traditional setting. Another benefit of online counseling is that counseling is available 24 hours a day. This can be extremely beneficial to individuals living in different time zones yet would love counseling to work out common human problems. Online counseling can be accessed from any location where the internet can be accessed and that is another important consideration.
Extensive research has shown the positive effects of online therapy to be very similar to traditional methods, for any condition where inpatient care is not required. These services place patients in contact with vetted, qualified and licensed medical professionals with a minimum of overhead costs, allowing large numbers of previously untreated sufferers to obtain counseling for nearly any mental health condition, from anywhere in the world.
Some Ethical Considerations:
A primary ethical consideration that all counselors and therapists must adhere to is the ethic indicated as "Do No Harm". Sometimes text-based interactive communication leads to less non verbal cues and can lead to misinterpretation. It is important to understand that misinterpretation may lead to harm so the words used in text-based communication in online therapy must be concise, empathetic and clear. Always ask for clarification if a misinterpretation is possible.
Another ethical issue to consider is confidentiality. Counselor/client relationships are built on confidentiality because this leads to trust. Text-based communication and video communication must be confidential in order to be effective.
Informed consent is another ethical issue. Informed consent provides the client with information about the expertise of the counselor and the limits of confidentiality in the counseling relationship. Informed consent is an essential ethical consideration. Counseling should also be voluntary where the client has a choice relative to what they share and how they share it.
Ethical guidelines are a cornerstone to effective therapy whether it is provided online or face to face.