What is Computer Mediated Communication?

CounselingComputer mediated communication (CMC) is a fancy way of saying “talking to someone over the computer,” and without it Online Counseling—the online part, anyway—would be limited to an online version of biblio-therapy. That is, without CMC, a person suffering from depression could find a website and read about depression, or perhaps watch a video on depression recovery, but back and forth dialogue between client and counselor would not be possible. Therefore, having at least a basic understanding of CMC will help us immensely as we begin to discuss online Online Counseling.

What is Computer Mediated Communication?

CMC is commonplace for persons with Internet access, especially younger generations who use CMC to be part of online communities, and to connect emotionally with others. 13There are two basic types of CMC, asynchronous communication and synchronous communication.

Asynchronous communication

Asynchronous communication is a conversation that is not in ‘real-time’. This means there is a significant time-delay between the period when one person makes a statement, and when another person responds. This is nothing new. Mailing letters back and forth with a friend is an example of asynchronous communication. A friend of mine uses asynchronous communication (unwittingly, even) when she uses a camcorder to record video-messages from her and her daughter, and then mails the tape to her husband, who is overseas. On the Internet, asynchronous communication is very common, and takes the form of email, discussion board forums, and bulletin boards.

Synchronous communication

Synchronous communication is a conversation in ‘real-time’. This means that two or more persons receive and immediately respond to each other’s dialogue. We are all experienced with synchronous communication—every in-person conversation we have ever had has been synchronous, as has every phone conversation. Videoconference would also be an example of synchronous communication, as would text-chat, which is currently the most widely used form of synchronous communication over the Internet.

As you will see later, both synchronous and asynchronous communication have unique advantages that make it difficult to declare one as superior to the other. For example, an advantage of synchronous communication is that it most closely resembles traditional in-person communication that we know to be effective in counseling. An advantage of asynchronous communication is that it provides both the client and the counselor time to reflect on the each other’s statements, process their own ideas and provide a well thought through response—which may greatly improve counseling dialogue. Again, many more of their unique advantages are presented later.

13 Walther, J. B. (2004, December). Language and communication technology: Intro to a special issue. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 23(4), 384-396; Leung, L. (2001) College student motives for chatting on ICQ. The Chinese University of Hong Kong New Media &  Society, 3(4), 483-500.