What is the support for you to meet your needs: Online or Face-to-Face Counselling?
Most people do not have much personal experiences with counselling or therapy. In this post, I would use “counselling” and “therapy” interchangeably to avoid the technical terms that could stir a different discussion. This post is not about the history and evolution of how talking became helpful, or how we mental health professionals would define or market the training we have received and the work we do. This post is not about local jurisdictions or affiliations to professional bodies or licensures.
This post is about you, an individual who could be curious about what we mental health professionals do that can help you. This post is informed by the work that I have done, the work that I will do and can do online or face-to-face because you would want to know if I (and others like me) have the abilities to build a professional relationship with you. A professional relationship that is warm and friendly, yet challenging and slightly provoking, in order to help you (or someone you care about) work on resolving some of your pain points.
The Counselling Process: Face-to Face
As with most of my peers in the professional space, my training and experience across the years, has equipped me with skills and knowledge necessary to work with clients face-to-face, sharing the same room. I know how and where you and I could sit, how to hold the therapeutic space so I can create psychological safety and trust, and you could count on me to protect your privacy and confidentiality. What you say in the room, stays in the room – unless there is a threat to your safety and the safety of others. I know how to listen attentively, and with genuine interest and curiosity because I am invested in this professional relationship to help you, help yourself.
What you can expect from a face-to-face counselling session, is the physical sense of connection and comfort that would underpin the confidence you have to discuss the issues that trouble you: things that you have never told anyone before because of the fear of judgement, or how bad your life has been impacted since the onset of your problems. I am physically with you, working alongside you. What you are able to share and the insight you gain from the conversations with me, will go on to inform you of the changes you would have a go, at resolving your problems. How long this process would take, depends on you. You could be interested in only attending to immediate issues and the helping relationship you establish with me will terminate when you have achieved your goals. You may have the deep desire to commit time and energy to work through trauma, mental health issues, or work on growing and thriving and this process may take a longer time. There is not a fixed programme for you to follow to solve a particular problem because everyone is different. It would take time to understand your values and a solution that is aligned with those values and also to build coping strategies that can build your resilience and confidence in handling future difficulties. In my experience, I have helped people for 3-8 sessions where they needed a listening ear and support to gain clarity of their situations and plan to move forward. I have helped people for 8 to 15 sessions where they were going through an impasse (whether to end a relationship or change their job, etc). I have formed longer professional working relationships with individuals who do not have much support in their lives and were willing to devote resources to work through profoundly complicated and complex situations.
Online Counselling Using Video-conferencing Tools
Current developments in technology have made it possible for people to meet without leaving their residence. Also, many practitioners could have been forced to quickly meet service gaps or jump on the bandwagon of providing counselling online because of lockdown/ shelter-in-place/ circuit-breaker/ social-distancing measures, no thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic. If you think all counsellors/ therapists/ psychologists/ psychiatrists can do the good work that they have done face-to-face and transfer and deliver their services effectively with an internet connection and through a screen, it is not always true. Many professionals, myself initially too, have been resistant or anxious about providing therapy online because the physical realm provides more fodder and cues for us to build a warm and trustworthy relationship more easily; the virtual world presents unfamiliar circumstances for interacting in a grounded manner. There are so many what-ifs. We know the importance of providing an ethical practice and the digital world is developing so quickly that we may find ourselves doing more harm than good if we do not know what don’t know. Ignorance is not bliss.
What I have done since deciding to focus my practice on providing therapy through the online space, was to get myself trained. I devoted a considerable amount of time and resources to learning which video-conferencing tools to use and how to provide a secure platform for the most privacy. I have honed my skills in building a sense of relatedness and groundedness across a screen; it is paramount that you feel comfortable and safe. Although we are physically working afar, therapists who are committed to delivering professional services, within ethical boundaries, would utilise various strategies that will have you know that a fellow human is working alongside you, to help you help yourself.
What I do know is that the therapeutic relationship I (and other practitioners trained in delivering therapy online) can build with you, contributes significantly to the effectiveness of the help you receive and this relationship can still be established well using the online space.
The Benefits of Online Counselling
The first step is always the hardest. Are we able to admit that we have a problem that we have difficulty solving and that we need the help of someone else? Someone who is a stranger. A stranger whom you have never met or spoken to before. But also, a stranger who is neutral and would not be burdened by the emotional baggage you have been carrying, because they are trained. The exciting development in the digital space has improved the accessibility of quality help to your doorstep/ room. It has made it easier for you to reach out (across the globe!) to a professional for help.
Asking for help for emotional or mental health issues is still more stigmatising than seeing a physician for a broken limb. Using online counselling has become a simpler process for help-seeking too, without having to commute to a clinic, a centre, an office and so on. You do not run a risk into running into someone you may know and having to attend to queries that may trigger a shame storm. Speaking to a counsellor through a video conferencing call could also be more empowering for yourself because its ease facilitates your first move to do something about your situation. When you have experienced the benefits of counselling, you can decide down the road to seek help for face-to-face interventions.
How do you determine who can meet your needs?
One of the barriers to getting help is the notion that we cannot be helped, the “what if I can’t be helped?” To challenge this notion is get help. The difficulty is not being helped but in finding someone whom you think is the right fit, who has the skills to help you, who can instil in you hope that empowers you.
So, do your research! With the online platform available to anyone who has a working internet connection, you can find out more about different counsellors/ therapists and the help they can provide. You can choose in-person, live-chats, phone or video counselling and even avatar therapy now. Use the first one or two sessions to determine if you like working with this individual. It’s ultimately about you and your comfort and your ability to trust this person.
Most therapists who work online would offer some form of free consultation for you to find out if you can work together on your problems. So, book that discovery call!