Online counselling is good for you!

During the pandemic, many counsellors moved to provide online counselling. It was quit a big adjustment for many. As things are beginning to open up again, at least for the present, we are having to assess how far we go back to old patterns of work. For some counsellors this means seeing clients face-to-face (F2F) again, others are offering a blend of online and F2F, while some, like me, are opting to remain working online only.

Making the decision to move to online working was not difficult. There are many advantages for clients to working online, in terms of convenience, flexibility, emotional and physical safety, and reduced stigma of being seen going to a counsellor (see my web page on this topic). However, some will argue that the outcomes of online counselling are worse than for in-person counselling because you do not have that physical connection. From my experience, this argument is unsubstantiated; it is perfectly possible to build a good relationship with people online and get good outcomes. The good news is that my own experience is supported by the latest academic research.

Researchers from the USA and Australia (Fernandez et al., 2021), in a meta-analysis of 103 studies, with over 5,000 participants, found that clinical therapy was ‘no less efficacious when delivered by videoconferencing than in-person.’ When the results of the study are broken-down there are some clear messages:

  • online counselling provides significant improvements over not having any therapy
  • that online counselling and F2F counselling provide essentially identical outcomes
  • online counselling is most successful when Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is used to treat anxiety, depression and PTSD. This is interesting as it supports a previous study which suggests online therapy leads to a better counsellor/client relationship when working with generalised anxiety issues

The relationship between client and counsellor is really important to achieving a successful outcome for therapy. I mentioned above that one of the reasons I moved overtook consoling online is because clients seem to be more at ease than when they are in the room with me. A different study (Watts et al. 2020) supported my experience. Interestingly in their study, Watts et al. found that the clients experience of teletherapy was more positive than that of the counsellor!