Is online counseling for real?

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.


About Lynn Schlossberger

I am a mental health counselor, writer and photographer living in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
This entry was posted in Mental health, Social media and life online, Therapy and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Is online counseling for real?

  1. Ms. Vee~ says:

    Simply awesome! Lynn this is so wonderful you should share it with the staff. I enjoyed reading the blogs. You go girl!! Beautiful…

  2. You article is very well written. I am a private practitioner providing online counseling and I’m an online instructor as well. In both environments, I have experienced what you have described. Our intuitions, as you mentioned, help us form relationships – both in person and in the online community. It’s amazing what you can get from the written word. Great article!

    • Thanks Belky. I enjoy what’s distinctive about online social contact, too. You can tell that we’re in a time of transition when the focus is so much on what is missing. I like your blog, by the way, and I’ve added a link to it.

  3. “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. ”

    Very, very true… googling counselors I stumbled across one that claims to have been practicing for 20+ years and is mentioned on several online counseling sites. (Appears legit.) Yet, when you view her main homepage there is no mention of licensing, certification, grandfathering, or informed consent (all things legitimate practitioners would have on their site).

    I’d like to add that in addition to maintaining confidentiality, the site should be a secure site in which both parties log in and records/conversations are kept confidential. Without a secure server, confidentiality can not be guaranteed, hence why so many counselors are using third party providers like 🙂

    Also, depending on the state rules where the counselor lives, confidentiality may be limited by mandated duties to report/warn/protect. Having a detailed informed consent/intake process is as important online as it is in RL if the counselor is legit. Without some mention of confidentiality/licensure I would not support that individual’s claims.

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