online counseling, ecounseling, telephone counseling

Proposed Advantages of Text-Based Counseling Therapy

Attention and Reflection

Text-based interactions (especially those with a time delay) allow both client and counselor to pay close attention to their communication exchanges, and reflect on their own thoughts and feelings, while still in dialogue. 64

Confession and Framing

A client’s need to confess is automatically framed through the process of writing. 65 This should be no surprise, journaling is often assigned as homework to persons participating in in-person counseling, partly because of its framing and cathartic effects.

Objectivity and Externalization

Writing often invokes one to reread and review what was written, a process that promotes increased objectivity and externalization of a problem on the part of the client. Also, once something is down on paper, one can ‘take a step back’ from it and then re-approach the facts in a more objective, impartial manner.

Associations and Insight

New associations, insights, and the recovery of old memories are often the products of the process of getting one’s story down in writing.67 Further, it has been said that while with in-person sessions a client66 may speak for an hour and not reach the heart of a matter, with writing a client can communicate more in one sentence written after an hour of reflection (of course, this second tenet is only applicable in asynchronous text-based communication).

Accountability

Persons tend to hold themselves more strongly accountable when they agree to something that is in writing. This is because one often feels a sense of commitment when they write out their statements, opinions or intentions. Also, text-based interactions allow participants to comment on and directly quote pertinent excerpts of previous exchanges. This heightens the accountability of both client and counselor to their statements.

Ownership and Control

Clients communicate in a less restricted manner by text, for they are less affected by positive or negative leads, and are less apt to fear the ‘furrowed brow’ of a counselor.68 Clients also possess heightened ownership of the counseling process for they set the pace and tone by controlling the frequency and content of disclosures.69

Maximum Anonymity

Some persons suggest that videoconferencing is the ideal mode for counselors to interact with clients because it supports asynchronous two-way audio and video communication that emulates the in-person experience.70 However, videoconference is the least frequently used method of Internet communication. Why? Some site it is often not utilized because software is expensive and difficult to incorporate, or because videoconference requires the use of high-speed Internet connections that are unavailable in some areas.71

However, recent studies show that videoconference software is both inexpensive and simple to use, and that its widespread non-adoption is more likely evidence that it is not desirable, perhaps because it eliminates the desirable anonymity persons experience with online text communication.72 It should be noted that text offers more anonymity that even the telephone, for clients need not share even the timbre of their voice with a counselor.

Testament of Treatment Progress

Discussions are easily saved or printed with text counseling, allowing clients to reread therapeutic guidance years after the termination of counseling. This may both strengthen old resolutions, and serve as a testament of the client’s treatment progress.

Counselor Perceptions of Online Counseling Advantages and Disadvantages

Counselor perceptions of Online Counseling advantages and disadvantages vary widely depending on the modality and factor in question. In my own research, I investigated a sample of 854 mental health professionals who were solicited by being on a mailing list for a national counseling organization that claims 50,000 members. The following results present mental health professionals’ reported perceptions of 21 client and counselor factors for four Online Counseling modalities: email, text-chat, telephone, and videoconference; and perceptions of 10 additional factors (proposed advantages) for text-based communication.

Perceptions of Counseling by Email

To acquire an understanding of counselors’ perceptions of email counseling factors (advantages and disadvantages), participants were asked to respond to various items by use of a 5-point likert scale. Responses ranged considerably, showing a range of perceptions on each issue. These are presented below.


64 Suler, (2000); Suler, (2004).

65 Speyer, S. & Zack, J. (2003). Online counselling: Beyond the pros and cons.  Psychologica, 23(2), 11-1.

67 Childress, (2000); Speyer & Zack, (2003).

66 Ibid

68 Speyer & Zack, (2003); Suler, (2004).

69 Manhal-Baugus, 2001, Baron, A., Hutchinson, J. (1984, December). Interactive video: A promising technology for counseling services. Journal of Counseling and Development, 63,  244-247.; see also Elleven & Allen, (2003).

70 Manhal-Baugus, (2001).

71 Reimer-Reiss, (2000); Walther, (2004).

72 Talk to a therapist online, para. 1-3. Ainsworth, M. (2004). What is e-therapy? Retrieved  October 04, 2005 from Metanioa.org.