Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Internet Counseling by Tony Astro

Many counseling are now done via the internet. Various agencies have used “chat lines” and discuss personal issues at the comfort of their home. An obvious advantage such as flexibility and accessibility due to location of both client and counselor comes to mind as well as extra confidentiality or privacy between counselor and counselee becomes an additional option if counselor prefers concealment.

Research has indicated that interacting from the comfort of home may offer client advantages of convenience and may encourage access to previously unavailable counseling services for those who live in rural areas or those limited by transportation barriers. Finally, online counseling may offer a degree of anonymity that encourages clients to be more forthright with their issues (Haberstroh, 2008).

With the current destitution of a client especially in lack of medical insurance coverage of patient, another advantage is the cost-effectiveness of having to cut the need of an additional space (in which cost is usually transferred over to client’s consultation fee).

Distance may be more economical than in-person counseling because counselors who do not need to rent commercial space have lower overhead costs, and neither client nor counselor has commuting expenses. Moreover, clients may be able to invest fewer hours in distance counseling because the dialog that ensues is often more goal-directed (Centore, 2008).

The obvious economic advantages brought about extensive options and choices to many clients. The more technologically adept our patient with the internet, the more they will use this means of counseling. But many should still consider the traditional, face-to-face counseling due to many disadvantages of internet counseling such as better-quality of communication – an integral part of counseling is listening, verbal and non-verbal communication.

In a research study by Paxton and her group has the following outcome: “From the participant’s perspective, internet delivery may also restrict communication. Not having personally met other group members and not having visual cues may reduce a participant’s sense of personal contact with other group members, thus impeding the development of relationships between group members and impacting on group cohesion. This may lower a participant’s capacity to motivate others and to give and receive support from the group.” (Paxton, 2007)

Furthermore, the absence of eye-contact, sudden change of emotion, the tone of voice, the fear of technology (especially when either counselor or counselee is unfamiliar with the internet, one may hesitate to “click” the button) from both side is a big consideration and disadvantageous to the client if online counseling is utilize.

In another research outcome: Internet counseling disposes with the process of building more intimate trust, a process that, in real life confrontation with a counselor, is slow, accompanies the exchange step by step, and is highly charged, especially in the beginning. This process is very much at the center of the client’s perceptions and self-persuasion at the time of the first contact in traditional counseling. It contributes to whether there will be any readiness to cooperate at all. In internet counseling, this psychological stage of relationship building is apparently skipped, because the client is able to reveal himself or herself directly in the online process, owing to one of the factors of psychological anonymity already mentioned (Schultze, 2006).

The main thing is internet is another option for a type of counseling that can be use in many simple cases like inquiry, follow-up from a face-to-face counseling, situational issues (i.e. relationship, job issues, etc.), additional counseling and referrals but this counselor deems that online counseling be use with limitation to be use only when it’s appropriate to the case. Internet counseling will not be ideal for intensive psychotherapy with major medical and mental complications (i.e. dementia, old age, depression, etc.). Counselors are ethically obligated to ensure not just the effectiveness of communication but ensuring that minimizing barriers of communication and accurate data.

ACA Code of Ethics under article A.12. Technology Applications on Benefits and Limitations states that counselors inform clients of the benefits and limitations of using information technology applications in the counseling process and in business/billing procedures. Such technologies include but are not limited to computer hardware and software, telephones, the World Wide Web, the Internet, online assessment instruments and other communication devices (American Counseling Association, 2005).

Counselors will continue to face challenges on counseling methods and must understand all the implications and usefulness of this medium of communication and be open to new ideas as well.

Furthermore, ACA states: When providing technology-assisted distance counseling services, counselors determine that clients are intellectually, emotionally, and physically capable of using the application and that the application is appropriate for the needs of clients (ACA, 2005).


American Counseling Association (2005). ACA Code of Ethics. Retrieved on November 17, 2008, from http://www.counseling.org/Resources/CodeOfEthics/TP/Home/CT2.aspx

Centore, A., & Milacci, F. (2008, July). A Study of Mental Health Counselors' Use of and Perspectives on Distance Counseling. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 30(3), 267-282. Retrieved November 17, 2008, from Academic Search Premier database.

Haberstroh, S., Parr, G., Bradley, L., Morgan-Fleming, B., & Gee, R. (2008, Fall2008). Facilitating Online Counseling: Perspectives From Counselors in Training. Journal of Counseling & Development, 86(4), 460-470. Retrieved November 17, 2008, from Academic Search Premier database.

Paxton, S., McLean, S., Gollings, E., Faulkner, C., & Wertheim, E. (2007, December). Comparison of face-to-face and internet interventions for body image and eating problems in adult women: An RCT. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 40(8), 692-704. Retrieved November 17, 2008, doi:10.1002/eat.20446

Schultze, N. (2006, October). Success Factors in Internet-Based Psychological Counseling. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 9(5), 623-626. Retrieved November 17, 2008, doi:10.1089/cpb.2006.9.623
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