Academic journal article Measurement and Evaluation in Counseling and Development

The Online and Face-to-Face Counseling Attitudes Scales: A Validation Study

Academic journal article Measurement and Evaluation in Counseling and Development

The Online and Face-to-Face Counseling Attitudes Scales: A Validation Study

Article excerpt

This article reports on the development of measures of attitudes toward online and face-to-face counseling. Overall, participants expressed more favorable evaluations of face-to-face counseling than of online counseling. Significant correlations were found between online and face-to-face counseling with traditional help-seeking attitudes, comfort with e-mail, and interest in various counseling services. Counseling and research considerations are reviewed.

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In recent years, there has been an increasing amount of literature that addresses the debate regarding the use of the Internet for providing online counseling services to address mental health concerns. Advocates of online counseling have noted the potential utility in reaching populations that cannot or will not access traditional mental health services, the convenience of the service, the ease of record keeping, and the possible reduced costs associated with providing these services (Barak, 1999; King & Moreggi, 1998; Murphy & Mitchell, 1998; Tait, 1999). Opponents of online counseling cite many potential problems, including concerns regarding the delivery of online counseling services by unqualified practitioners as well as significant concerns regarding confidentiality, the lack of visual cues, the inability to directly intervene in a crisis, and the lack of therapeutic control (Barak, 1999; Ingram, 1997; King & Moreggi, 1998; Murphy & Mitchell, 1998; Sampson, Kolodinsky, & Greeno, 1997).

Although this debate is likely to continue in the academic and professional literature, one point of agreement is that online mental health service delivery is underway and is likely to expand in the future (Norcross, Hedges, & Prochaska, 2002). Yet surprisingly little is known about how potential help seekers perceive using online counseling services. To our knowledge, there seems to be no current systematic line of research that addresses precisely how people perceive online counseling services in comparison with more traditional psychological support services. In addition, although the literature has provided suggestions for the types of clients who might be good candidates for online counseling (Alleman, 2002; Stofle, 2001), currently there are no empirical data to support these claims. One of the most glaring reasons for the omission of this information is a lack of research instruments designed to measure the public's perceptions of online counseling services. To address this issue, our purpose in the present study was to develop an instrument that provides valid and reliable scores that describe attitudes toward online counseling and a comparable measure of attitudes toward face-to-face counseling services.

In considering the potential utility of such an instrument, several potential benefits should be outlined. First, the fact that online counseling services are increasingly being provided via a range of different service modalities (Bloom, 1998; Murphy & Mitchell, 1998) inherently demands a systematic investigation of how people perceive using these services and the types of clients who may be well suited for online counseling services. Many individual practitioners are opening their own "online practices," either by joining large networks of "e-therapists" available through dot-com companies or by building their own "virtual clinic" group or private-practice Web sites (Barak, 1999; Maheu & Gordon, 2000). In fact, on the nonprofit Web site Metanoia (http://www.metanoia.org), online therapy consumer advocate Martha Ainsworth reported that there has been a steady increase from 12 to more than 250 private-practice Web sites, representing more than 700 therapists, since 1995. Before investing the time, effort, and money to develop an online practice, counselors must know whether clients will make use of such a service and the types of clients who might be best suited or qualified for these services. …

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