When counselors contact me about Online Counseling, many of them are interested in providing anonymous services. That is, they are not interested in the client being able to remain anonymous in the counseling process; they themselves want to remain anonymous.
“Why would you want to remain anonymous?” I ask.
“Well, who knows who I will be counseling? They might be Internet predators and stalk me or my family,” they say.
My recommendation is this: If you are of the mindset that the people contacting you for Online Counseling are going to be dangerous—considerably more dangerous that your face-to-face clients—Online Counseling is not for you. Or, perhaps before you begin Online Counseling you should take a deeper look into your motivations and determine, if this is really what you conclude, why you would want to provide Online Counseling in the first place?
The truth of the matter is that, as counselors, we always take on some risk. We deal, by and large, with people who are sick—emotionally, mentally, and physically. And there is some danger that goes along with dealing with sick people. Borderline patients may fabricate stories about misconduct and report us to professional boards. Clients with anger problems may punch a hole through our office wall. Clients may retaliate against our guidance and refuse to pay for our provided services. In rare circumstances, clients with psychotic tendencies may attempt to hurt us or hurt those we love. However, as professionals we do not attempt to hide our identities. We dutifully provide information regarding who we are: our full names, credentials, license numbers, insurance, office location and contact information.
The good news for eCounselors is that Online Counseling is perhaps more safe that in-person counseling. First, the geographical distance that separates a client and a counselor is quite protective: there is simply a diminished ability for a disgruntled or delusional client to physically harm a counselor or his family. Second, there is no basis to support that the psychotically ill are more likely to solicit Online Counseling services. In fact, it may be true that more highly functional and healthy persons are the ones who seek Online Counseling care. Third, depending on your own policies, you may decide that clients with psychosis—as I recommend—are not good candidates for Online Counseling, which will make the clientele you accept to counsel less prone to be dangerous due to mental illness.
There is only one way in which Online Counseling is more dangerous to you than in-person counseling, and it is this: upset clients may report to your counseling board that you were unprofessional or abusive, and because you are providing a still somewhat exploratory counseling service, your board may have less patience in hearing your side of the story. And I guarantee they will be much less patient if they are not convinced your Online Counseling client received the same treatment as your in-person clients. That includes a full disclosure of counselor identity and credentials.