Academic journal article Journal of Social Work Education

Research Note-A Pilot Cyber Counseling Course in a Graduate Social Work Program

Academic journal article Journal of Social Work Education

Research Note-A Pilot Cyber Counseling Course in a Graduate Social Work Program

Article excerpt

During the past decade cyber counseling has emerged as a compelling way to provide service to individuals of all ages. Using cyber technology to provide counseling has major implications for work with youth, who are sophisticated users of cyber technologies (Agatston, Kowalski, & Limber, 2007; Danby, Baker, & Emmison, 2005; Hinduja & Patchin, 2009; Hsu, 2010; Lenhart & Madden, 2007; Reid & Caswell, 2005; Webb, Burns, & Collin, 2008). Ninety-eight percent of Canadian youth access the Internet and cyber technologies daily (Cassidy, Jackson, & Brown, 2009; Mishna, Cook, Gadalla, Daciuk, & Solomon, 2010); 93% of American youth between the ages of 12 and 17 go online occasionally, and 63% do so daily. Three quarters of American youth own a cell phone, and 88% text message (Lenhart, Purcell, Smith, & Zichuhr, 2010).

Electronic media fall within the scope of telecommunication technologies (Collie, 1998), such as the provision of physical and mental health care to those who receive treatment without the physical presence of a practitioner (Collie, 1998; Wright, Sparks, & O'Hair, 2008). Through the use of cyber technology, counseling can occur without the counselor and client(s) in the same physical place at the same time (Collie, 1998). Online counseling can be defined as "any delivery of mental and behavioral health services, including but not limited to therapy, consultation and psychoeducation, by a licensed practitioner to a client in a non-face-to-face setting through distance communication technologies such as the telephone, asynchronous e-mail, synchronous chat, and videoconferencing" (Mallen & Vogel, 2005, p. 764).

Cyber counseling is relatively recent and thus there is a scarcity of literature on the nature, scope, and outcomes of cyber counseling (Mallen, Vogel, & Rochlen, 2005; Manhal-Baugus, 2001; Murphy & Mitchell, 1998; Murphy et al., 2009). Though there is expected to be a dramatic increase in the coming years in client demand and the number of practitioners offering cyber counseling (Norcross, Hedges, & Prochaska, 2002; Rickwood, 2010; Stamm, 1998; Wright, 2002), there is a lack of educational programs to prepare students to offer effective cyber counseling. It is essential that educational programs respond to the growing demand for cyber counseling and that research generate knowledge on the competencies necessary for this counseling practice.

A social work school in a large, Canadian city partnered with a national agency serving Canadian youth less than age 21 to offer cyber counseling in the master's of social work degree (MSW) program curriculum. A 13-week pilot course was offered to a total of 40 MSW students and agency staff. This article reports on an evaluation comprising interviews with 17 respondents and content analysis of all course participants to posts by youth to identify cyber competencies.


Cyber counseling is an ideal medium not only because many youth have access to the Internet, but also because youth typically feel comfortable with cyber technology, whereas they may be more reluctant to seek face-to-face therapy or support, because of reasons such as feeling embarrassed (Murphy & Mitchell, 1998; Rickwood, 2010). Several benefits of online counseling have been identified. One important benefit is the increased accessibility for clients: individuals in rural communities with few services, individuals with physical disabilities, or individuals without the means or time to travel to a counselor's office (Chester & Glass, 2006; Oravec, 2000). Other benefits include availability for clients who are afraid to seek therapy in person because of factors such as anxiety or stigma (Lange, van de Ven, & Schrieken, 2003; Murphy & Mitchell, 1998), greater comfort for those who prefer the shield technology affords (Mallen et al., 2005), or the anonymity in revealing intimate issues (Miller & Gergen, 1998; Schultze, 2006). …

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