Online Counseling Today
With ever increasing Internet use, many “brick and mortar” companies have become, in full or in part, “e-companies.” Very notably shopping (Amazon.com, Overstock.com, ebaY.com), news (News.Google.com, Drudgereport.com), banking (Suntrust.com, Paypal.com), investing (Scottrade.com, Fidelity.com), dating (Match.com, eHarmony.com), education (University of Phoenix Online, Liberty University Online), marketing and advertising (Overture, Google adwords, Logobee.com), and community (Myspace.com; Facebook.com) have found solid roots in the World Wide Web.
Online Counseling Today
Despite this revolution, online counseling services have not found the same success. Moreover, concerning Online Counseling as a whole, although telephone counseling services have existed for over 50 years (Hm, have I said this already?), they still represent only a very small portion of the counseling service industry. Dr. Jason Zack, however, is optimistic about Online Counseling, writing:
Likewise, other researchers predict online counseling will expand as regulatory issues are resolved and when more providers and potential clients become involved with the Internet. One expert adds:
Although…[Online Counseling] will not replace the conventional mode of service delivery, it could become an essential component to improve the accessibility of mental health counseling.34
Current Online Counseling
In spite of its problematic beginnings in the late 1990s, the Online Counseling industry is expanding. For example, a recent investigation found several thousand counselors with Internet dimensions to their practices. These dimensions include online advertising, service information, and the ability to email a clinician. 35
Regarding online advertisement of counseling services, several websites such as PsychologyToday.com, and SuperPages.com (owned by Verizon) offer a therapist listing, which is in essence an online “yellow pages” for counselors. For Christian counseling, the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC) manages a Christian Care Network in which all participants provide proof of licensure, proof of professional liability insurance (1 million-3 million aggregate minimum), and attest to abide by the AACC code of ethics and doctrinal statements.
Regarding persons who are providing services online, one researcher wrote that “In one search conducted in 1996, there were 12 mental health sites online, and today  there are over 250 websites and over 400 therapists who offer online counseling.”36 Also in 2002, the Wall Street Journal wrote that up to 800 therapists were offering online services.37
Most recently, for a doctoral dissertation, one researcher conducted an exhaustive count of online providers. Of 217 Online Counseling websites found, 70% (152) were single providers, 17% (36) were online practice groups, 5% (10) were online and offline practice groups, and 5% (11) were identified as large online clinics. Reportedly, 626 providers were identified for the 197 websites that disclosed counselor provider numbers. This excludes one online clinic with 302 providers, omitted because it was considered an extreme outlier.38
The Significance of Slow Industry Growth
So what does all this mean? Perhaps in contrast to the early years where eTherapy.com signed up hundreds of practitioners on the speculation “if we build it clients will come,” the slow and stable industry growth may be keeping pace with the current consumer demand for Online Counseling services. One expert, Dr. John Grohol, suggests that today providers are online to accommodate a present market for services. If there was not a market, he argues, professionals would not expend their time to establish, administer, and maintain these services. Hence, though there are no hard and fast numbers for the amount of Online Counseling being provided (a good study, if you’re looking to do one), the rising number of online practitioners suggests a growing demand for services.39
33 Zack, J. (2002, September/October). Online counseling: The future for practicing psychologists?. National Psychologist, 11(5), 6B-8B, para. 2.
34 Reimer-Reiss, M. L. (2000, July). Utilizing distance technology for mental health counseling. Journal of mental health counseling, 22(3), 189-203. p. 189.
35 Manhal-Baugus, M. (2001). E-therapy: Practical, ethical, and legal issues. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 4(5), 551-563.; Heinlen, K. T., Reynolds, W. E., Richmond, E. N., & Rak, C. F. (2003). The scope of bed counseling: A survey of services and compliance with NBCC standards for ethical practice of web counseling. Journal of Counseling and Development, 81, 61-69.
36 Manahal-Baugus, (2002), p. 552.
37 Davis, R. J. (2002, June). Aches & claims: Online therapy goes mainstream. The Wall Street Journal, 04, D6.
38 Slavich, S. (2003).
39 Grohol, J. (1997). Why online psychotherapy? Because there is a need. Retrieved July 12, 2005, from http://psych-central.com/best/best4.htm