Online Counseling: A Consumers Guide

If you are reading this article, you may be wondering if online counseling is right for you.

  • Strange to think about revealing personal problems to someone that you have never met?
  • Thinking that it might be easier to talk to someone who really does not know you and whom you can trust to keep your secrets?
  • Wonder if the person you will trust with your greatest worries or big questions has the ability to be helpful?
This article may be the best place for you to start to decide if online counseling might be helpful for you.

What is this all about?

Online counseling of one form or another (email, chat and phone) has been around for over 10 years now. It began with therapists connecting with clients through technology instead of, or in addition to, regular face-to-face sessions. As the use of the computer and the ease of telephones and instant messaging has increased, so has the interest in receiving help with personal problems over the internet.

Online counseling has been shown to be effective with a large number of problems. While not many studies have been done in this area, reports and testimonials from some consumers indicate that online counseling can be as helpful as in-person therapy for many problems.

One study did show that it was as effective in treating depression as in-person therapy when clients received regular sessions, completed homework and workbook assignments and took part in online forums. See this UNSW article for more information on this study.  Research continues on this delivery system for counseling and we will update this guide as we receive more information.

In-person, live therapy, is still the preferred choice for most therapists and clients; however, in today’s world, sometimes online counseling is the only choice.

Some questions to ask before deciding if it is right for you.

 Do I want a relationship with a therapist?
The relationship with an online therapist, even if it is with the phone and a video camera, does not have the same personal qualities as sitting in a room with a therapist. Care, concern and warmth does not translate in the same way over email or on the phone as in person. While you can get a good “feel” for your therapist, especially if it is over the phone, most likely there will not be the same connection as sitting in a room together.

How can I decide if this person is qualified to help me?
Be sure to check his or her credentials and affiliation with organizations. For instance, if you are looking for someone who can help you with a relationship, you might want to see if that person is licensed as marriage and family therapist and a member of The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy.

Can I get my needs met for free?
Most qualified and licensed mental health professionals charge for their services. If you want someone that you can trust with your concerns, you will most likely be charged a fee. Some of the services may be less costly than live therapy but you will probably have to pay for help.

If money is a real concern, you might check with some of the online resources for articles and message boards. Be careful with the site as many are not operated by competent and licensed professionals. You can do an internet search for your problem and may find some support there.  Here are a few places to try. Just go to the site and type in your question or problem in the search box.

How can I decide if the therapist that I choose is competent?

Here are some questions to ask yourself … and any therapist you might consider hiring.

  • Are credentials posted in a way to find them?
  • Are the credentials ones that would fit the problem that I am experiencing?
  • Is the therapist willing to answer some of my questions before we begin to work?
  • Have you read some of the articles on the web site to see if their ideas about problems
  • match your own?

 How does online counseling work?

Email therapy involves sending an email to a therapist who then reads it and responds with observations and feedback along with reading or movie suggestions and possible homework.  Check out our page which describes this process for individuals and couples.

Chat therapy
is text-based and real time communication between a client and a therapist.

Video therapy allows the client and therapist to see each other as they talk.
Phone therapy involves conversation over the phone without seeing each other.

What can I expect about privacy and confidentiality?

We offer encryption on our site and you will find that it is not any more difficult than other email. The question that you have to consider is whether or not your privacy is respected at home.

The biggest risk that people complain about is that family or friends have seen emails and learned things that were intended to be confidential. Be sure, from your end, that you handle your correspondence with us in a way that ensures that your privacy is respected. If you share a computer with others, be cautious about your email.


How do you pay for the sessions?

Counseling Relationships Online accepts Visa, Master Card and Discover. We are also able to accept checks and money orders. Payment must be submitted prior to the counseling session and, if it is by check, the first three must be submitted 4 days prior to the session.

Will insurance cover these costs?

At this point in time, insurance companies are generally not covering the cost of online counseling. That will most likely change in the future as health insurance companies recognize the benefits of this delivery system but it is not happening right now.

The Benefits Of Online Counseling

Flexibility. You can send an email in the middle of the night, when your concerns are circling in your head, you don’t need to wait until the next available mutual time.

Immediacy. While your response may not be right away, it is frequently much quicker than waiting for an appointment with a therapist. Most promise a response time within 2 business days and are often much quicker than that. Therapists are able to respond in “slow” times and you do not have to wait until you both have availability.

Cut to the chase. You can ask specific questions and get specific answers. While, with in- person therapy, you develop a relationship and can often find answers as you talk things out, with online email therapy, you can get practical ideas.

Anonymity. While most therapists will want some identifying information, you can be pretty sure that you will not run into this person in the grocery store or find when you meet them that they once went to school with your brother or mother. It has been determined that this opportunity for anonymity helps people reveal their concerns more quickly and directly and often receive the help that they need more quickly.

 Cost efficient. This can be a less costly way to receive help, particularly with email therapy.

Accessibility. Online counseling can reach people who live in rural areas, work erratic hours, have health problems, are home-bound (pre-school children), have difficulty getting out because of mental health issues or have limited access to mental health professionals.

Professional Competence. With online therapy, clients have access to some of the most qualified professionals, even if they do not live nearby.

What are some of the drawbacks?

Those who are not “technologically inclined” may find this form of therapy frustrating. There is also always the possibility that there may be an interruption in service because of computer or internet and phone problems.

You also don’t have that personal connection that often is one of the most important parts of the therapy process.

Who will not benefit from online counseling?

People who have attempted or are considering suicide need more immediate help. Check out our Crisis Page for some places to call or visit for immediate help.

Children and teens under 18 need to have parental consent in most states so therapists will want to have some involvement with their parents.

Final thoughts

Online counseling is not right for everyone but it is a good solution for many. We would love to talk more with you about you and your situation. Check out our website. Read some of our articles. We have a lot of experience with helping people resolve problems and would enjoy the opportunity to work with you. Call or email us at Counseling Relationships Online and we can talk about you and how we can best meet your needs.