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Online counseling can offer a convenient and anonymous solution to the mental health and wellness needs for a lot of people that might not otherwise make contact with a counseling or therapy professional.

Nevertheless, due to the limitations of therapy online, some clients may need to visit an in-person counselor to receive effective help – and your counselor has an ethical obligation to make sure that you understand and accept any possible limitations of online therapy before getting started.

Additionally, some clients who might otherwise be ideal candidates for internet based therapy, have practical or technical limitations that diminish their ability to benefit from online counseling and would be better off getting help in person.

Here are some things to think about, some practical considerations, before getting involved in online therapy.

Practical Considerations of Online Therapy

  • Typing speed – Many online therapists use text as a primary form of communication, either through instant messaging or email correspondence. If you cannot type reasonably quickly, you may find it difficult to express yourself meaningfully. If you are engaged in video-link therapy (less common) then typing speed is obviously not a consideration.
  • Writing ability – You must be reasonably comfortable expressing yourself through text and feel that you can transmit emotional complex ideas through writing. You don't have to sound good or have perfect spelling or grammar as long as you can get your message across; but if you can’t communicate the problem, you can’t expect to get effective assistance.
  • Online experience – People who have some experience in online communication/relationships tend to benefit more from text based online counseling. Communicating emotions effectively in an instant messaging session is a bit of a skill that demands practice. Anyone who uses email and instant messaging should be proficient enough.
  • Stable internet connection – technical glitches and connection delays can disrupt a therapy session and limit the effectiveness of the counseling. You should have a stable connection that allows for instant messaging without delays (a very minimal requirement).
  • Time Zones – you may want to consider finding a therapist who operates in a time zone similar to yours. Although the internet renders geography less relevant, working with a counselor who wants to sleep while you want to talk can make things needlessly complicated. You also want to make sure that your counselor understands your cultural environment. A counselor from NYC may have difficulty understanding the realities and influences of rural America, for example.

Online counseling is an effective intervention that provides greater access to mental health services; and when provided with an ethical awareness of its limitations and to people with the communication skills and technical abilities to use it well, it opens doors of access that might otherwise stay closed.  

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Page last updated Apr 06, 2011

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