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Online Counselling and Coaching

Online Counselling – what’s it all about?

It appears that counsellors and coaches are finally catching up with technology and have discovered ways of interacting with their clients online. Not only as a means of keeping in touch, but as a way of actually conducting sessions with clients. Having had the Online sessions available to my clients for a few months now I wanted to share my experiences and thoughts.

So how does it work? Very simply, it’s a way of client and coach conducting a coaching session through the internet. The actual practicalities of it depend very much on the individuals involved, with some practitioners preferring to use a webcam and microphone whilst others are providing sessions via Instant messaging (IM), or a combination of the two. For me I have gone with the IM option only at this point, just because I am not convinced the quality of the webcam images is at a good enough stage yet. It’s OK for my parents in the UK to see their grandchildren every few weeks, but it really isn’t of any useable quality to conduct a counselling or coaching session, the picture delay and stilted fuzzy image just isn’t good enough.

From my experience the online sessions I have conducted with clients have been good. There are a number of things that you have to bear in mind and it can take a bit of getting used to. I think one of the hardest things is having patience, it takes time for each party to type what they are wanting to say, especially if they change their mind half way through and start again. This can make the sessions appear a little slow, but for me that is one of the benefits of this type of interaction as it gives the client the option to spend time thinking about their response. There are several other key benefits to clients with this type of coaching; its completely anonymous, enables you to have a session from the comfort of your own home at a time that suits you, writing responses to questions is therapeutic and in our age of technology more and more people are living more of their lives online so it is a comfortable medium of communication for most people.

The drawbacks with Online sessions are that they can appear a little slow (as mentioned above) and this can be even slower if either party isn’t the quickest at typing. There is also the difficulty in conveying emotion when typing and what is written can be easily mis-interpreted. (I’m sure we’ve all had experience of this with email or text messaging). There is also the issue of privacy/confidentiality of the information as the chat session remains on the account that the client has used, unless they delete it. Online counselling is also not suitable for clients that are ‘at risk’ ie when there are issues of personal safety or harm

The clients that I have worked with for online counselling have found it overall a positive experience. They have had a number of different reasons for using this method of communication; one client lives in a small local town where everyone knows everyone, another has re-located to the UK and wants to continue our counselling relationship, another finds it hard to make the times I am available for face to face sessions and so we can chat at time to suit her. Interestingly the last 2 examples mentioned here are clients that I have met for face to face sessions before and this does enhance the online counselling experience for both parties.

I believe there is certainly a place for this type of counselling/coaching and providing all parties are aware of how it works and are happy to make it work then I think it can add real value. I don’t think it will ever be as good as face to face counselling/coaching sessions as the relationship between the coach and client is intimate and personal, which is a little harder to embrace over a keyboard and screen. Although as video conferencing and webcam capabilities increase then who knows where we will be in 5 years time, emotions can be conveyed over the internet – I just have to see my parents joy at seeing their grandchildren from over 12,000 miles away to know that, its just not at a good enough level yet for counselling.