Buy colorful paper, write a few lines, slide it into an envelope, carefully check recipient address, post envelope in mailbox, and wait a few days for a reply. Gone are the days when we used letters as our primary communication medium. The rapid refinements of technology create new platforms: It takes mere seconds to deliver messages via Whatsapp, Messenger, Skype, Snapchat, WeChat – to name a few. Now, we can write, call or video chat with our faraway friends and family at the touch of a button.
So why not also find counselling via online platforms? The use of the internet to deliver information and facilitate communication encourages a new breed of counselling right at our fingertips. Online psychotherapy, also known as e-therapy, has been defined as interactive electronic communication between clients and mental health professionals aimed at improving client well-being. This can occur as online-only counselling or be an addition to traditional face-to-face therapy. There is a growing body of evidence that supports the effectiveness of e-therapy as a tool for addressing clinical issues.
The Benefits of Online Counselling
Research shows that 90% of online clients report that e-therapy has improved their mental health. Strikingly, being able to engage in therapy without friends, family or coworkers knowing was the most cited reason for using online platforms. This is particularly beneficial for individuals who struggle with fear of negative effects on their professional life due to the stigmas attached to mental health issues. Another major advantage is flexibility: Online counselling overcomes geographical and logistical limitations. Specifically, individuals with disabilities, severe anxiety, or those living in areas where access to healthcare facilities is limited may enjoy the ease of accessing support online. In the same vein, e-therapy offers consistency to frequent travelers helping them to receive regular and on-going support.
The Risks of Online Counselling
As with all counselling styles, e-therapy bears some risks. Ensuring data privacy can be more challenging as online communications and digital footprints may be traced. Notably, reputable counselling platforms use secure encryption, which are at less risk of illegitimate third-party access; thus, it is important to verify the security of your chosen e-therapy provider. In line with this, legal requirements have not caught up yet with the recent rise in available online counselling applications. Thus, clients are advised to verify the quality of therapy sites prior to engaging, including factors such as therapist qualifications, independent service reviews and official memberships with recognized psychotherapy associations. Finally, observation of non-verbal communication like gestures or posture, which plays an important role in therapeutic assessment, may be limited in e-therapy. However, clients can reduce such limitation by making use of video calls in quiet, comfortable and private settings with minimal distractions.
Finding Balance in E-Therapy
The emerging tool of e-therapy holds benefits of confidentiality and flexibility that traditional face-to-face therapy cannot compete with, while risks can be managed and reduced with some precautionary steps. We are increasingly more mobile nowadays with short-term and long-term overseas work or travel often disrupting our schedules. However, taking care of our mental health is a continuous effort. E-therapy provides an unprecedented platform which enables clients and professionals to remain connected on an on-going basis. Such regularity promises greater improvements in mental health and well-being. With technology always at our fingertips, why not explore the advantages of this new generation of counselling and see where it can take us?
by Esslin Terrighena and Cheng Wing Ho, Gabriel