This article briefly outlines online counseling for readers who may be interested in delivering therapy via the internet. The article should very much be understood to be a beginner's primer based upon research literature and the personal recommendations of the authors. Readers will also benefit from several online resources for counselors mentioned throughout the article.
In a just a few short years there has has been a growing amount of discussion and literature focused on online counseling (Laszlo, Esterman, &, Zabko, 1999). This type of counseling goes by names such as etherapy, ecounseling, cybertherapy, and telecounseling. For this article we will use the term online counseling to refer to counseling which does not occur in an office setting with both counselor and client in the same room or office but across some distance (Nickelson, 1998).
What was once termed as an "alternative" to traditional therapy is now becoming more commonplace and possibly reimbursable (Laszlo, Esterman, &, Zabko, 1999). Computer technology continues to rapidly advance and allow for further innovations within the mental health fields (Barak, 1999). Many social workers and other therapists have adopted the technology (Giffords, 1998) and it may indeed be the case that counselors who are slow to incorporate available technologies are left behind in an increasingly competitive field (Grohol, 1998). Many believe there to be fewer and fewer boundaries to effective online counseling (Fenichel, et. al, 2002).
To be effective, counselors should be technologically well informed (Gale & McKee, 2002) and be able to build a website that is easily understood and navigated by the client (Torres, Maddux & Phan, 1999). As the general populace continues to increase its knowledge of technology, counselors will be required to keep pace (Gutterman & Kirk, 1999).
Online counseling has also proven to be a viable option for many clients (Cook & Doyle, 2002) and sometimes allows clients a different and stronger voice (Shuler, 2002). In addition, online counseling may allow better access to multicultural counselors and allow clients more therapeutic choices (Guanipa, Nolte & Lizarraga, 2002).
In an effort to inform counselors of the potential of online counseling we offer several suggestions below. These suggestions and this article should not be construed as sufficient for a counselor to begin an online practice tomorrow. The suggestions are merely meant to pique the reader's interest and allow them a place to start before beginning further study and reflection regarding the topic.
Besides technological tools and helpful organizations found below, we also recommend finding someone to partner within your technological growth. Much like a work out partner, your technology buddy will assist the beginning online counselor to high success. One must not incorporate all of the suggestions below in order to grow from a beginner to a veteran online counselor. However, the more options you can offer clients the more possibilities you will encounter for attracting clients.
It should also be noted that what we suggest are often merely tools. Just like a new hammer will not make a good carpenter, these tools will not make good counselors. The tools, however, have the possibility of enhancing the counselor's effectiveness and outreach for certain clients.
We believe counselors must meet the client where she is technologically. By that we mean the counselor's use of technology must not supercede, at least initially, that of the client. For instance, if the counselor attempts to engage the client with video conferencing and the client does not have the equipment nor the inclination to pursue this option there may be more than an electrical disconnect. The client may indeed be uncomfortable with the technological application. …