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Online Counseling – How Does It Work?

The online counseling experience differs depending on the how the therapist chooses to deliver it. There is no singular best method, as all methodologies have some advantages and disadvantages. There may be a best for you method, however.

An Overview of the Different Methods Used to Deliver Online Counseling

  • Email counseling – You and a therapist communicate back and forth through email correspondence. This is a very convenient delivery system, as client and counselor need not be online simultaneously. Another advantage of email based counseling is that both the client and the counselor can put some time into their messages, ensuring a thorough and accurate communication. Email correspondence tends to be less time consuming for the therapist, and so is often less expensive than real-time therapy. Email correspondence based therapy, however, is quite far removed from any traditional counseling experience.
  • Instant messaging chat – During an instant messaging counseling session, the counselor and client communicate back and forth in real time in through text messages. This type of therapy requires scheduling and commitment, and so is less convenient than email therapy, but more closely replicates a traditional counseling experience.
  • Instant messaging chat with video – With instant messaging chat with video, communication still occurs through text messages, but both the therapist and client can view each other through a web-cam based video link. This may provide the therapist with greater information via non verbal communication, but the quality of the video sent can limit this.
  • VOIP calls – Online counseling can also occur using Voice Over Internet Protocol Technology (VOIP). A commonly known example of this technology is a Skype call. Using VOIP, a client and therapist communicate verbally with one another. VOIP calls are generally free or very low cost, eliminating long distance phone charges as a factor of consideration.
  • VOIP calls with video (web cam) – Some counselors may use VOIP calls with both client and therapist displayed via webcam video.
  • Video link – Video link therapy most closely replicates the traditional counseling experience. In a video link session, both the client and the counselor communicate verbally and visually via video. This provides the counselor with the best quality and quantity of information and non verbal cues. Although video-link counseling is likely the preferred mode of delivery, technology and bandwidth limitations still constrain its utility.
  • Avatar based therapy – Counselors have begun experimenting with the delivery of counseling services through the use of avatars while “in-game”. Second Life and World of Warcraft are 2 examples of virtual game communities that support avatar therapists.

There is no right or wrong, only what works best within your schedule, comfort level and access to technology.

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