Each person who regularly communicates using electronic text communication paints a picture of themselves in words and simultaneously creates a picture of the recipient. The words are received, interpreted and reacted upon as if the 'real' person were physically present. The image is constructed by the assimilation of shared factual data and the assumptions and illusions that come from information drawn on by the individual to make sense of reality.
Assumptions and illusions on a daily basis help us anticipate the world. They form our personal constructs (Kelly 1963) and our interpersonal relationships are often maintained by criteria we have absorbed throughout life (Jacobs 1985). However, we may need to acknowledge that there is an art and many skills necessary to communicate effectively online. The forum of text communication to give meaning to reactions, responses and behaviour has potential and opportunity and 'concepts that we have inherited from years of writing on paper to begin to dissolve' (Price and Price 2002).
Trainers, counsellors, therapists and coaches may need to consider new theoretical frameworks within which to operate and will need to start by acknowledging the fundamental principles that govern the 'decoding' between transmitter and receiver in this type of communication and therapeutic relationship. Without the clues and cues of facial expression, body language and tone of voice, individuals have little choice but to fill in the blanks. Making sense and anticipating reactions, responses and meaning can only be achieved from data collected in life experiences.
Many of us are now completely reliant on text-based communication via the internet with no formal training. This has resulted in adapted and adopted modes of using text with haphazard patterns of shorthand and abbreviations. The technology of recent years has catapulted even the most cautious of technophobes (Brosnan 1998) into some sort of use of the computer and the positive and negative outcomes that go with it.
It was as a result of working as a relationship counsellor and trainer of counsellors that the therapeutic elements of using text, and particularly electronic text, became apparent. My work online developed from the research needed for my masters