There is a growing bank of research looking at the effectiveness of online counselling, particularly in the education sector. Alleman (2002) concludes that, whilst regulatory concerns certainly exist and ethics requirements will be paramount, “therapy can be done online, that it can be done ethically, and that online services might not be a serious threat to face-to-face therapy.”
Chardon, Bagraith & King (2011) suggest that there is evidence that online counselling might dive less deeply into action planning and goal exploration for clients – however, there is no suggestion that this must be the case. As online counselling develops, so too do the skills of the practioners. Particularly for a counsellor operating within the parameters of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, there is no reason for the interaction to be any less deep or meaningful. Indeed research is showing that teenagers in particular are more, not less, likely to engage in counselling online. Lunt (2004), in the relatively early days of online interactions, identified what would come as no surprise to most working school counsellors: students expressed an unwillingness to engage with their school counsellor, perceiving them to have too close a relationship to other teachers and possibly to their parents. They were more likely to pursue online counselling disconnected from their school. They also reacted positively to counselling out of the normal hours of the school day, citing the relaxed home environment, greater nexus of control and lack of stigma when peers are unaware of the counselling.
Another research paper, from Glasheen, Shochet & Campbell (2016), concludes that “students experiencing psychological distress had a preference for online counselling. If students did use online counselling it was more likely they would discuss sensitive topics rather than for career issues.” These finding are not surprising and schools would do well to consider the addition of an online element to particularly their pastoral counselling services. In many schools the school counsellor has a large case-load of students, and academic counselling takes precedence. It can be difficult to commit to a longer-term counselling arrangement, nor is that always appropriate in a school setting. Having a reliable online referral outlet would be a valuable tool in a school’s well-being toolkit, particularly for those International Schools in locations where local services might be poor, non-existent, or simply not available in English. Glasheen et al. (2016) conclude that “online counselling provides a less threatening way of approaching help” and that “online counselling may assist some of those students who have, up until now, been reticent to access the services of the school counsellor.” In an earlier paper, Glasheen et al. reported that most school counsellors were conditionally in favour of offering online counselling in a school setting and were open to pursuing further training to enable them to provide online counselling effectively. (Glasheen, Shochet & Campbell 2013)
In a separate qualitative study into adolescents’ motives for choosing online counselling, King, R., Bambling, M., Lloyd, C., Gomurra, R., Smith, S., Reid, W. & Wegner, K. (2006), revealed “that factors such as privacy and lack of emotional exposure attracted adolescents to online environment.” The report also concluded that web-based counselling services would become an increasingly important part of student well-being services.
My own experience as a counsellor suggests that students are reluctant to miss lessons during the school day to see a counsellor, are reluctant to have their peers aware that they are seeing a counsellor, are reluctant to open up to a counsellor they perceive as a friend or colleague of their regular teachers and are reluctant to discuss personal issues with a counsellor who they see as one face of the school and who may have interactions with their parents. Whilst ethical concerns, particularly with regard to confidentiality, need addressing clearly and upfront with students, I have every confidence in the online model supplementing what schools are currently able to offer.
Alleman, J. R., (2002) Online counseling: The Internet and mental health treatment. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, Vol 39(2), Sum 2002, 199-209
Chardon, L., Bagraith, K. S. & King, R. J. (2011) Counseling activity in single-session online counseling with adolescents: An adherence study, Psychotherapy Research, 21:5, 583-592, DOI: 10.1080/10503307.2011.592550
Glasheen, K.J., Shochet, I & Campbell, M.A. (2014) Opportunities and Challenges: School Guidance Counsellors’ Perceptions of Counselling Students Online Journal of Psychologists and Counsellors in Schools Volume 23 Issue 2 https://doi.org/10.1017/jgc.2013.15
Glasheen, K.J., Shochet, I & Campbell, M.A. (2016) Online counselling in secondary schools: would students seek help by this medium?, British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, (44:1), 108-122, DOI: 10.1080/03069885.2015.1017805
King, R., Bambling, M., Lloyd, C., Gomurra, R., Smith, S., Reid, W. & Wegner, K. (2006) Online counselling: The motives and experiences of young people who choose the Internet instead of face to face or telephone counselling Counselling and Psychotherapy Research, September 2006; 6(3): 169174 https://doi.org/10.1080/14733140600848179
Lunt, P.T. (2004) Adolescents’ Willingness to Utilize Online Counseling Virginia Tech. (2004) Retrieved from: http://hdl.handle.net/10919/26643