The Benefits of Online Counselling
The age of technology brings with it many benefits – one of them is counselling online. It has many real positives for clients, and this is why we were one of the first adopters of online counselling platforms, even prior to the start of Alongside You. I have used online platforms to provide counselling for many years, and it’s a wonderful, highly effective tool to use.
What are the benefits of online counselling? Here are a few reasons online counselling is a great tool for the profession, and for clients alike.
Location, Location, Location
Over the years I’ve worked with clients all across BC, Canada, and in the USA using an online platform. One of the things that I’ve become aware of is that in remote areas, finding a counsellor with the expertise in specific issues can be a real challenge. As you might imagine, a small town up in northern BC often does not have the same resources that we have here in Greater Vancouver. Online counselling can provide access to expertise that doesn’t exist in outlying areas.
Time is money
It can be a real challenge for clients to see a counsellor during work hours. We make sure we have our services available in the evenings and on weekends, but as you might imagine, those times are very popular and fill up fast.
Online counselling can help with this – instead of needing to take time off for travel, and the time of the appointment out of the workday, clients can see a counsellor on their lunch hour, or before or after work much more freely. What may have otherwise taken 3 hours out of a day, can take an hour. It can also happen in the comfort of your own home or your office without the needed travel time.
Did I Mention Location?
One challenge that many of my clients have had over the years is that they travel for work. If you have a job that requires a lot of travel, it can be very difficult to schedule appointments with the consistency needed for counselling. This is where online counselling can be very helpful; I’ve worked with many clients who use our online platform when they’re out of town so that we can keep up with our appointments even when we’re not in the same location.
Some Things To Know About Counselling Online
As with any form of treatment, there are certain things clients should be aware of and think about prior to engaging in this service. In the case of online counselling, here are a few things to be aware of and think about before you decide if it is right for you.
Security is important
Any time you’re dealing with health information, security is important. Not only are there legislative mandates and laws counsellors need to be following, there is also your personal comfort with how your information is transmitted. Unfortunately, many times I see counsellors using technology that is not secure for online counselling. The most common examples are Skype, Google Hangouts and Facetime. None of these platforms are secure, and in my opinion, should not be used for counselling purposes. The reality is that the counsellor cannot guarantee the security of your video call and information on these platforms.
True security is found on platforms that use end-to-end encryption. What this means, in simple terms, is that a lock is put on the data on your end (the client) and it can only be unlocked at the other end by the professional, and vice versa. Skype, Google Hangouts and Facetime do not offer this protection. They have some encryption protection, but it does not end to end so there is a possibility that someone in the middle could see or read the data.
The other issue is data storage. To comply with health privacy laws in BC, and in Canada, the technology must store all data on servers on Canadian soil. Again, Skype, Google Hangouts and Facetime do not do this. They store data on servers all over the world, including the USA where your data may be subject to the Patriot Act and read at any time by the US Government.
We use a HIPAA/PIPEDA compliant version of Zoom, which is set up so that it does not store any data, at any time and offers end-to-end encryption. Previously, we’ve used Medeo which is used by many doctors in BC because it also offers a platform that complies with the legislation and privacy laws.
The difficulty for many professionals is that these platforms cost a fair bit of money. My position, however, is that it’s not ethical to provide online counselling without the proper security in place and this is why we choose to spend this money in order to offer this service to clients. With online counselling at Alongside You, you can be assured that your data is secure and complies with all of the proper legislation.
How comfortable are you in an online environment?
Some people love video chats and calls and do it regularly with friends and family. Some people prefer in-person connections. Others enjoy of mix of both. Counselling is an intimate, sometimes intense process and it’s important to think about whether you’d feel comfortable with this in an online environment.
Another consideration along this vein is do you have a safe, private space to make the call in? One of the benefits of coming to a counselling office is that it is a private, safe space. If you’re doing the counselling online, you’ll need a space of your own that can provide this for you. Your sense of safety is of utmost importance.
How comfortable is the counsellor with online counselling?
Counselling online is different for counsellors as well! It’s important to know, and ask, whether the counsellor you’re seeing enjoys online counselling and feels that it’s an effective method for them professionally. Do they have a lot of experience doing online counselling, and is it a method they enjoy? Their comfort is also important and it’s okay to ask them these questions!
At Alongside You, we don’t ask any counsellors to provide online counselling if they don’t have the experience, or if they don’t enjoy the platform. The counsellors here provide online counselling because they enjoy it and find it to be effective for them, and for their clients.
Is it appropriate for me to do counselling online for the issues I’m dealing with?
For most issues, counselling online is perfectly appropriate. There are a few situations where you may want to think about whether it’s a good idea. First, if you are dealing with severe suicidal thoughts and other self-harm or risky behaviour, online counselling may not be for you. Your safety is key and online counselling may not provide the necessary safety and environment for this type of work. This is a good thing to discuss with your counsellor prior to engaging in online counselling, and throughout the process to make sure it’s a good fit.
Second, sometimes couples counselling can be difficult online. So much of the counselling with couples depends on the emotional and relational dynamics that it’s hard to do if everyone is not in the same room. Again, it truly depends on the comfort of the client, and the comfort of the therapist as to whether it’s appropriate in these cases.
Finally, if your therapy involves live experiences (such as exposure therapy) this may not be the best format for you. There are safety concerns, and also practicalities that may make exposure therapy and other in-vivo approaches challenging.
This probably goes without saying, but I’ll mention it anyways. Online counselling requires a reasonable internet connection. It’s surprising how little speed it actually requires, but if you’re in an area that does not have decent internet service, online counselling may be a difficult thing. That being said, I’ve done it with clients in very remote areas, so even if you think it won’t work because of internet speed, it’s worth a try to find out!
Still have questions about counselling online?
Online counselling may be a brand new idea to you. I hope this article gives you a brief introduction to online counselling and things to think about. If you have any questions, or if you’d like to try it out to see if it’s a good fit for you please feel free to give us a call anytime, we’d love to hear from you!