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Isn’t Face to Face Better?

answered 04:33 PM EST, Wed July 27, 2011
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Isn’t it true that we say as much with our body language and demeanor as we do with our words? If so, how can an online counselor understand a person and his or her problems as well a counselor who sits in the same room as the client? Isn’t online counseling kind of a second-best type of experience?

Art Matthews Says...

Some reasons why people choose distance counseling has to do less with specifically wanting to do counseling over the internet and more to do with necessity and convenience.  Many people do not seek out counseling due to a host of logistical reasons: lack of readily available services in their area, lack of transportation, physical disability impairing mobility, lack of childcare, specific conditions like agoraphobia or Asperger's, etc.  In situations like these, face-to-face counseling may not be an option.  Distance counseling can also be used as an adjunct to face-to-face therapy through email messages, text messages, phone, text/video chat and even virtual world environments.  There are, as you pointed out, some limitations related to the visual information that may not be there or may be more difficult to read.  

There has however been some suggestion that specific groups of people find it easier to make a connection when they aren't face-to-face.  Some people are more likely to say things faster in distance chat than they are in face to face because they aren't being viewed by an "authority" and not perceiving judgment that a therapist wasn't intending to project; however, studies show that people will lie more readily when they are texting or emailing than when face-to-face.  Lying in therapy is unproductive whether face-to-face or via distance and is counter to the goal, so I'd think lying happens less in therapeutic communication than in every-day conversation anyway.

Online counseling is not for everyone.  It's really about matching the therapist, the client and the delivery model.  Not everyone will feel comfortable chatting to a disembodied "voice".   It is important that both the client and counselor be effective communicators with whatever technology and software they select.  But distance counseling has been a widely accepted form of therapy for over 50 years.  Just look at the first use of distance counseling, the crisis line.  From the inception of suicide crisis telephone banks, effective therapeutic services have been provided in venues that are not face to face.  

That being said, it's important that anyone seeking counseling from an online therapist make sure that the therapist is trained, experienced and credentialed in the use of technology in therapy.  There are professional associations and certifications springing up across the mental health landscape to make sure therapists are prepared to offer services online.  I have completed an extensive training in distance counseling that addresses just the sorts of issues you address.  I have earned the Center for Credentialing and Education (CCE) distinction of being a Distance Credentialed Counselor (DCC).  People interested in locating a qualified distance therapist can go to the CCE website and use their Therapist Locator http://www.cce-global.org/Pub/SearchInfo

I believe we will see greater use of technology in providing therapeutic services, but I don't have any delusions that it will overtake face-to-face counseling.  As one of my professors used to say, "Therapy is about the relationship between the therapist and client."  Whether that relationship is built face-to-face or across distance is of lesser consideration.



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Page last updated Jul 27, 2011

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