Not every client wants, or is able, to work in-person with a counsellor. As a therapist, it's really important to me that every client is able to access counselling in the way that suits them best, whether that's in-person, online, by telephone or via email.
Potential clients sometimes wonder how writing therapy works online or by telephone. Although there are some important differences, in many ways writing therapy works in much the same way as if we were sitting in a room together: a mix of talking and writing to suit the needs of the client.
Research has been done into how effective online counselling can be for many clients. Suler (2004) wrote about the ‘online disinhibition effect’ by which unconscious material can surface more quickly than it might in an in-person session. Feelings and insights can be experienced more intensely online by the client. My experience as a therapist tells me that telephone counselling often leads to a similar experience for the client.
As Suler says, clients sometimes share things in an online context that they would be less likely to do in a face-to-face situation. This disinhibition can be helpful in a therapy context; the psychological barriers to revealing and exploring thoughts and feelings are removed and the client may find it easier to communicate at a deeper psychological level and thus engage more meaningfully with the therapy.
A powerful way of working creatively online or by telephone is to use metaphor, in the form of an image, a word, a phrase or a story. Metaphors are a way to engage right-brain thinking and allow insights to emerge. Metaphors often represent something else in a non-literal sense, providing a ‘hook’ onto which the subconscious can project and allow something to emerge from the subconscious into conscious awareness.
So, for example, a client might find themselves talking or writing about a house but what is the personal meaning for them of a house? The image of a house might represent safety and warmth or, on the other hand, it might mean something more uncomfortable or challenging. All this can be explored safely in online and telephone counselling, just as it would be in an in-person session.
Technology can be challenging at times but there are definite advantages to working online, using a platform such as Zoom, given the potential for using ‘apps’, screen-sharing or altering camera angles. Writing , or images and photos, can easily shared by using technology during a session.
Suler, J. (2004). Psychology of Cyberspace- The online Disinhibition Effect.
Available at: http://users.rider.edu/~suler/psycyber/disinhibit.html