The Beginning of Online Counseling: Support Groups

The Beginning of Online Counseling: Support Groups

What is the bridge between support groups and online counseling services today? When did online counseling, as we understand it, originate?

Telephone counseling began in the 1950s with the Samaritans crisis counseling group. Online counseling, of course, began years after that, but sooner than you might think. Some form of online counseling has been present since the beginning of consumer Internet use—that is, since the 1980s. Dedicated to a variety of emotional and physical ailments (e.g., depression, grief, cancer, etc.), online forums—through a technology called Usenet, developed at Duke University in 1979—were an early method for individuals to reach others literally across the world. These forums became authentic support groups (21). It was a solid beginning for online counseling, but it took over 10 years before anyone attempted providing professional services.

How Has Online Counseling Transformed? What Is It Like Today?

With online counseling, you can work with a counselor via video chat, phone call, or even over email. If you choose the videoconference route, you’ll be given a link to the chat in which you’ll meet and talk with your provider! If you choose the telephone route, your counselor will call you at the agreed appointment time. If you choose the email route, you can send your counselor emails when you feel you need to talk or need the support. Often, video chatting or chatting over the phone is also involved at some point or another.

Who Does Online Counseling Help? Who Can Benefit from Online Counseling?

Online counseling is a viable choice for many individuals who want to begin working with a mental health professional. That said, online counseling (be it via video chat, telephone, or email) has proven to be especially helpful for clients who…

  1. Don’t have many counselors, therapists, or coaches in their area
  2. Would prefer not to meet with their provider in person
  3. Can’t easily make it to a local therapy office for their session
  4. Prefer to work with their counselor from the comfort and convenience of their home

Talking to Support Groups vs. Working with Licensed Mental Health Providers

As mentioned earlier, online counseling began as online support groups. People created and got involved with these support groups (which are now often referred to as mental health forums): they posed their own questions about mental health, received feedback, and gave others feedback as well. This proved helpful to many, which in a way, demonstrated the success that could come with working with a real licensed mental health professional online.

People like the anonymity and the convenience of receiving help online—whether it’s via an online support group or a licensed counselor. That said, online counseling has taken the world by storm as many now realize these unique benefits and see that it is effective.

21 Grohol, J. (2004). A historical perspective, In R. Kraus, J. Zack, G. Strickler (Eds). Online counseling: A handbook for mental health professionals, USA: Elsevier Academic Press; Anthony, K. (2003). The use and role of technology in counselling and psychotherapy. In S. Goss, K. Anthony (Eds.), Technology in counseling and psychotherapy: A practitioner’s guide, Great Britain: Palgrave Macmillan.


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