The very first time I connected with another human being over the internet (a fairly new phenomenon at the time), I couldn’t believe I was typing with someone who was practically on the other side of the planet. To be completely honest, before this virtual connection transpired, it hadn’t even crossed my mind that people living in Egypt would even have access to the internet. Thinking of the present day, I am now a mental health professional who delivers counselling through an online medium to clients from around the world.. so it’s easy to see where my interest and fascination to connect in a meaningful way with others using technology first began!
My counselling career started out in the traditional sense in terms of greeting a client from the waiting room, ushering them into the therapy office, sitting comfortably across from them, and getting ready to start the session. I quite enjoyed the ability to share the safe environment of the therapy office with my clients and although the therapy space that I work within has changed (no more waiting rooms or leather couches), I’m now able to provide a safe, virtual space for clients to share their concerns. It’s important for me to note that the intent of online counselling remains the same as traditional therapy: to allow a client to share their concerns with a professional who can listen and support them in a non-judgmental way.
Providing face-to-face therapy also allowed for the observation of body language, before a single word was even spoken, such as a nervous finger tapping on the armrest of the couch that could mean the client was having feelings of anxiety, or a low, monotone voice, which could signify depression or perhaps even an experience of grief. The challenge of identifying client emotions is much greater using online counselling and requires transparent communication with a different set of ‘virtual’ therapeutic skills. Nevertheless, I have found that a strong therapeutic relationship complete with client growth and change is possible through online therapy.
The ease of a client being able to access online counselling from the comfort of their home, office, or a place that feels safe to them, is a huge selling point for me. Many of my clients have shared that even though their struggles have been impacting on their lives for a long time, they had not reached out for help before accessing online therapy from fear of stigma or an inability to access traditional supports in their community because their mental health was so debilitating. The feedback I have received from clients has been astounding, as some have shared that accessing therapy through virtual means was the very first time they were able to share their story without fear of judgment from others.
Another aspect of online counselling that piqued my interest from the start is the fact that it opens up more possibilities for people to reach out for support with particular needs, such as people living with disabilities, those in rural or remote communities, or career-focused individuals with tight deadlines looking over their head. For example, chat or message counselling can allow people with mobility issues or hearing difficulties greater ease of access to a professional therapist so that they can type out their concerns at their own pace. Likewise, video counselling is also helpful for people living in remote communities who may not have local community support available, or for a professional with a busy career whose time is limited.
I have also found that clients seem to be able to explore their concerns at a deeper level and at a quicker pace, through an online medium, especially during chat therapy. My guess is that, for some, it can be easier to type out the painful experiences or feelings that have plagued their mind for so long. For the client, being able to finally express these difficulties can feel as though a weight is being lifted off their shoulders. My aim through providing online therapy is to be that support who lifts those burdens off of a client, even if it’s only while we’re connected. For me, it’s important to be able to show others that many difficulties in life are temporary, and with support and a willingness to explore their pain, things can get better!
I feel humbled to be able to support others using the wonders of technology, and although I feel as though the internet has come a long way from that first interaction I had with my Egyptian friend (I often wonder what he’s up to these days), I also see the potential of building even more connections between professionals and clients through an online setting. I look forward to seeing what the future of online counselling holds and hope I can continue to witness the growth and accomplishments of my clients as they continue to courageous reach out for support through an online setting.
Heather LeGuilloux obtained her Master of Counselling from the University of Queensland in Australia in 2010. She is a Registered Clinical Counsellor who holds association membership with the BCACC. Heather works with individuals and couples through the medium of online counselling and shares her knowledge about mental health and wellness through her blog or visit her website here