Several unique advantages exist in online work such as easier access for the housebound, geographically isolated or stigmatized client who will not or cannot access treatment locally. Online counselling is not only possible but offers a unique elasticity of communication that includes several factors, such as flexibility of location and of time and also the flexibility to engage either through email, live instant chat, video or telephone depending on what your needs are and what you feel most comfortable with. This article also looks at another benefit, the so-called “online disinhibition effect” (Suler) which refers to the phenomena that cyberspace loosens the psychological barriers that block the release of both, negative or positive inner feelings and needs, which we wouldn't ordinarily say or do in the face-to-face world.
The benefits of online counselling Being behind a screen creates anonymity to a certain extent which works wonders online. When we have the opportunity to separate our actions from our real world and identity, we feel less vulnerable about opening up. Invisibility gives us the courage to go places and do things that we otherwise wouldn't, because not being seen frees us up. For example in face-to-face interactions, we may be intimidated to say something to someone because of their job, authority, gender or race. Because this is not visible to us online, we feel freer to say whatever we want to anyone. Allowing your true self to be present Also, our own personality style may be heightened online for example if our communication style tends to be reactive or angry, we may be more reactive or angry online which might not necessarily be a bad thing as this gives us the opportunity to address it quickly and work with it. It is also very helpful to bear in mind that if someone is shy in-person but outgoing online, neither self-presentation is truer than the other. Both are dimensions of who we are, each revealed within a different situational context. Different communication modalities enable different expressions of ourselves. They allow us to see the different perspectives of that complex thing we call "identity." Also with the absence of visual and auditory cues, we may feel as though the interaction is occurring in our head. Everyone thinks all kinds of things about other people in their minds that we would never say to someone's face, so online we can say things we'd otherwise only think. Used in a supportive way of working this can also help with the understanding of ourselves and our own progress. Some experts in the online world even argue that a person's true self is more likely to appear online than in-person and surely that must enhance our relationships not only with ourselves but also with our therapist and others in the long term. It also can be disinhibiting for us not to interact with each other in real time as we do not have to deal with someone's immediate reaction. For example through email counselling, where we can respond whenever we wish, at whatever pace we wish, which gives us time to think about what we want to say and to compose our reply exactly the way we want. This wait-and-revise strategy can do wonders in preventing impulsiveness, embarrassment and regret. Some people, therefore, feel that they can express themselves better in the written word. We can review what we and our therapist said, cherish important moments in the online relationship and re-examine possible misunderstandings and conflicts.
The advantages and disadvantages of online communication As complex and meaningful as text communication can be, it might, however, lack the amount of robust and rich information that can be conveyed via the integration of talking, facial expressions, voice intonation, body language and physical contact. Nevertheless, that can also be seen as advantages as some of us may not be able to understand face-to-face nonverbal cues, or may be overwhelmed by complex and especially emotional nonverbal stimulation during in-person encounters. Some people may not have the opportunity to develop good relationships in-person. Finding those relationships online may be the right choice. How much we are able to open up of course also depends on our own personality and how comfortable we are with the computer and the written word. E-therapy could be the first point of access, helping to get us prepared for possible face to face therapy and therefore maybe also helping with a better outcome in the long run.
By a listed counsellor/therapist
Published on 14th April, 2019