Many adults, teenagers and couples find talking to a therapist online the best option for them in terms of availability, convenience and affordability. Many therapists now offer sessions by online video call and have undertaken courses specifically related to providing therapy online. A recent review of studies published by the World Journal of Psychiatry found that patients receiving online counselling by video chat reported ‘high levels of satisfaction’.
So, what are the pros and cons?
- More choice
Rather than limiting yourself to therapists available within a certain location, there are hundreds of therapists across the UK and globally who you can connect with via video chat for online depression counselling, relationship counselling and more. This means that, if there are not therapists near enough for you to meet in person, you can still access professional help online.
The opportunity to talk to a therapist online also means that you may be better able to find a therapist who is specialised in the specific approach you would like or the issue you would like to talk about, instead of being limited to the counsellors and psychologists in your area.
Although many are skeptical about online counselling, there have been studies published that advocate its benefits, including patients reporting ‘high levels of satisfaction’ in a review by The World Journal of Psychiatry and a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, which found that online CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) effectively reduced symptoms of depression and other mental health issues amongst participants.
- Convenience and flexibility
Meeting online means that there is zero travel time to and from therapy and sessions can be attended in circumstances that otherwise might not be possible. Whether you travel often for work or suffer from illnesses that make it difficult to leave the house, you can see your therapist provided you have a private, quiet space and an internet connection.
If you live in a small town or neighbourhood, you may be worried that you will run into your therapist outside of your therapy session, or that you may be connected to your therapist through other acquaintances. In this case, scheduling an online counselling session with a therapist who lives in a different location may give you more peace of mind.
- Dual location relationship counselling
Online relationship counselling might be an option for you and your partner or other family members when you are living in different locations, either temporarily or permanently. In this way, you can engage with group or couple relationship counselling online together, which would not be possible otherwise.
- Non-verbal communication
While an online counselling chat by video would mean that both therapist and patient can see each other and hear each other, other methods of online counselling such as email and text message rely only on written communication. Subtle cues such as body language, facial expressions and the tone of voice that someone uses can help us to understand the meaning of what someone says in any situation. These elements of communication are lost with words alone.
Therefore some argue that online counselling by webcam might be more helpful for both therapists and clients to understand each other. Non-verbal communication can also help therapists to listen more deeply to their patients, helping them to gain further insight into how their patients are feeling and in turn to understand how best to work with them. There are however ample research studies which find that online counselling is as effective as in person counselling.
Depending on the online counselling service used, a common worry is whether confidentiality could be jeopardised by security breaches.
Google Duo, Whatsapp and Facetime all offer end-to-end encryption as standard. Skype offers encryption but it is not end-to-end unless you have enabled private conversations (currently audio only). However, a Skype session is fully encrypted between your device and the Skype servers, so it is not possible to intercept the connection for eavesdropping purposes.
To ensure your security, update the app or software you use for webcam therapy to the latest version in order to prevent the risk of security issues.
Poor internet connections can disrupt therapy sessions and a cut in connection or power at a crucial time can be very frustrating. It is always worth checking that your connection is of the right standard before you embark on counselling online and ensuring that the software you are connecting with works on your device. It might be useful for you and your therapist to have a back-up plan in place in cases where technology affects your session.
- Therapist qualifications
Some online counselling services may not be transparent about the qualifications or training of their members. It is important that you choose a therapist who you believe has the suitable experience and holds the same level of professional training qualification as a face-to-face therapist, counsellor or psychologist. Online therapists at Harley Therapy are vetted and their memberships are checked before they can join the service, so that users can be assured that any online therapist they choose is licensed to practice in the UK.