Developing online, text-based counselling in the workplaceJeannie K. Wright
This chapter will be out of date before it is word-processed. The speed of development in electronic communications means that attempts to describe and illustrate the present position in online counselling (e.g. the usage of asynchronous email to seek and offer counselling support) risk missing out major changes by the time they are published.Some recent developments are, however, worth pinning down on the basis that, first, they are consumer driven: clients are sending us emails and asking for help. What is the evidence that we can offer a therapeutic relationship online? Second, some of the fundamental concerns raised by practitioners will be under discussion long after we've moved from text-based (typed) computer-mediated correspondence with clients to voice-activated correspondence and beyond. For example:
|• Can we guarantee confidentiality?|
|• Is it cheaper for providers and clients than face-to-face counselling?|
|• What are the advantages and disadvantages of a text-based 'virtual' relationship for counsellors and clients?|
|• What is the evidence for the efficacy of this form of helping?|
In this chapter I will briefly explore some of these questions and provide some indicative 'evidence' based on a review of current research. I will also draw upon the experience of setting up an online service for staff at Sheffield University. To ensure anonymity, I will refer only to fictionalised case material, made up of a composite of those clients who have used the online service at Sheffield.
Why set up online counselling?
Research into the effectiveness of online counselling has lagged behind experimental practice (Oravec 2000). Online counselling is in its infancy and as the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) Guidelines (Goss et al. 2001:8) emphasise, practitioners using this 'innovative and under-researched