Therapy Can Go Anywhere with Online Counseling

It doesn't take a lot of surfing to discover that you can find just about anything online, including online counseling.

Clothing? Sure, no problem. Plan a vacation? A few clicks and you're in Paris. Need a car? Picking a color may be your hardest choice. A house? Yup, that too. But online counseling?

Online counseling services are the latest business model to take advantage of the flexibility and convenience of the Internet, offering the public the chance to receive counseling services for a variety of emotional, family, and other problems through online chat, email, video conferencing, or voice-over-internet protocol (VOIP). The counseling can take the form of a brief series of questions or an extended, ongoing, regularly scheduled series of online meetings.

To many people, the idea of counseling being conducted solely online seems highly unlikely. Since its inception, the practice of counseling has utilized a one-on-one approach (or one-on-many in the case of group therapy sessions). The idea behind counseling was to construct a personal bond between the therapist and patient so that their mutual trust and understanding would lead to a unique level of insight.

Therapy has been around in one form or another since ancient Greece, but began to take shape in the 15th century. Prior to that time, most emotional problems were thought to be related to the supernatural; but a few physicians began to experiment with psychotherapy as a way to understand the thought processes of the insane. In 1852, British psychiatrist Walter Cooper Dendy coined the term 'psycho-therapeia' to describe the growing belief in the benefits of talking with the patient while treating emotional problems.

The biggest leap in the practice of counseling came with Sigmund Freud and his research into psychoanalysis, particularly with neurotic patients. In his attempts to bring the subconscious to the forefront, and in turn cure the patient, Freud relied on listening to the patient to come up with relevant interpretations of their thoughts or dreams. This interactive brand of counseling became the standard for psychotherapy and counseling for the next 50 years.

Meanwhile, in the 1950s, U.S. psychoanalysts began a more active brand of counseling called behavior therapy that placed an emphasis on the patient's thoughts and emotions. Later, psychotherapy sought to encourage the patient to go deeper into their emotions by encouraging a patient-doctor relationship built on warmth and acceptance.

More recently, counseling and therapy have become more concise and hyperfocused, not because of new techniques, but because of money. As more and more insurance companies have been forced to cover treatment for mental health issues, there has been a push for the traditional long counseling process to be shortened to lower the overall cost. As a result, many of the counseling efforts today are more abbreviated than those of the past and focus on specific problems, rather than a series of emotional issues.

Enter the latest development, online counseling, which seeks to make the benefits of counseling and therapy both accessible and affordable. And while it may fly in the face of everything traditional counselors believe about the practice, it has nonetheless become an increasingly popular option for those seeking therapeutic help.

Opponents of online counseling say the practice is too impersonal to offer meaningful help. To properly assist a client in counseling, they say, a psychotherapist should be able to view the patient's physical reactions to questions to gain further insight. In addition, they insist that having first-hand knowledge of a client's environment - where and how they live, also essential in getting full picture of a client's needs.

But doctors who have established an online counseling service-as well as their clients-insist that this newest form of therapy is effective, convenient and affordable.

Online therapists say Internet counseling can be of great service to people who are coping with relatively simple emotional or life problems. More complex issues or crisis problems (such as suicidal thoughts) should be handled by a therapist who can personally guide you through the extremely difficult phase. Even if you think your problems is not that serious or complex, an online therapist can determine the severity of your issues and, if need be, recommend that you seek face-to-face counseling from a therapist in your area. But for most simple problems that can be handled with simple consultation, online counseling can be a great help.

Online therapists and their clients also point to the convenience of online counseling such as that offered at Quite often, patients are unable to attend regular sessions in a therapist's office due to time constraints (for example, work or family). Having the opportunity to consult a therapist online from the convenience of your laptop or desktop computer can be a welcome option for those pressed for time.

In addition, online counseling can help reluctant patients open up about their problems and get to the heart of the matter. Online therapists say that some of their patients exhibit shyness and reluctance when having to discuss their problems face-to-face. Being able to write out their problems in an email or chat session not only reduces their inhibitions but may actually get them to clearly see for themselves where the problems may stem or what the possible solutions may be. In fact, many face-to-face therapists often have their patients write out their problems or feeling as a way to gain a greater understanding. With online counseling, this step is an automatic part of the process.

Finally, there is the cost factor that makes online consulting a viable option. Online therapists note that online counseling is often less expensive than traditional counseling, which makes it possible for those on a fixed or low income to still get the help they need. In addition, online counseling makes it possible for those in remote areas to have access to the counseling they may need without the expense of traveling far distances once or several times a week or staying in a location for an extended period of time for treatment.

There are a few precautions that potential patients should take before enrolling in an online counseling program, the experts say. First, the potential patient should make sure the online therapist is licensed and certified. As with many online ventures, there are opportunities for the unscrupulous to take advantage of those desperate for help, so insist on information about the online therapist's qualifications and credentials and investigate those as well.

Next, be aware that online counseling requires a great deal of writing, about your problems, your concerns, etc. If the possibility of extensive writing is not appealing to you, consider traditional therapy to address your problems. There are a few online therapists who use video conferencing (using webcams) or Internet phone (such as Skype) but these therapists are few and far between.

Also, online therapists often discourage anonymity. It may be an attractive option to be able to speak to someone online (rather than in person) about a sensitive issue, but a good online therapist will insist on getting your name, address, and other personal details just as an in-person therapist will do. Getting your information will help the therapist give you the personal counseling you need and allow them to alert someone in the case of a troubling situation.

And as stated before, if your problems prove to be too complex, or if it involves a crisis situation, recommends that you see a face-to-face professional rather than rely on an online counselor.

It is a changing world, thanks to the Internet, and the world of therapy is changing along with it. While online counseling will never replace personal face-to-face counseling, it is proving to be a convenient and viable option for people worldwide.