The internet has changed the way we live. But is it possible to have a genuine counseling relationship online? It’s one thing to use an electronic device to surf through blogs on hybrid cars, to pay the bills, sign a petition, comment on a Facebook post and download a movie, all while the coffee drips. But counseling is personal. The value of the experience depends upon the genuineness of the interpersonal connection between counselor and client. Can something meaningful happen when the encounter is in cyberspace?
The answer depends upon what you think is required, in order for trust to form. For one thing, we need to be sure that the person with whom we share our story is really who she claims to be, professional, human, and nonjudgmental. Online counseling is not to be confused with a personal advice blog, a psychic consult, or a computer-scored personality test . For something meaningful to happen, a person must have confidence that somebody is listening, and responding in an informed and caring way. Here’s the thing: any reputable counselor will have professional credentials and ethical commitments validated by a licensure board, regardless of whether you meet them online, or in an office with ferns and a print of the Monet water lilies. Confidentiality is to be expected in online counseling , exactly as if you were in the same room. The counselor’s website should provide information about the therapist’s commitments and professional credentials, and a way to verify them. We humans are quirky beings, but counseling is serious.
You probably want to know if there is a good fit between your outlook and that of the counselor. How do you tell that the concern of the counselor is genuine, when you don’t hear the tone of her voice? Here we arrive at the land of intangibles. There is no formula for trust, not even in person. After you have done your due diligence in picking someone who has professional training and has the interests and expertise you need, there is room for a bit of mystery. The written word and the visual image allow you to form an intuition about the person behind the website, whether you are comfortable, and whether you feel welcome. Take these intuitions seriously. And know that, just as in person, there is no shame in testing out a new relationship to see if it will be meaningful, and moving on if it is not for you. Take the process seriously, and see if magic happens.