Is online counselling as effective as offline counselling?

online counselling, offline counselling, mental healthcare, mental health support, mental health concerns, mental healthcare providers, online mental health counselling

The pandemic has changed the medium of counselling overnight for therapists all over the world. There was no other choice but to adapt to online platforms.
It also convinced those who were set against online counselling initially.

Teletherapy has opened up access to mental healthcare for individuals from anywhere in the world - especially during a time of extreme need. This also increases accessibility to individuals with disabilities or those who are housebound - unfortunately, with offline counselling, not every clinic has facilities that accommodate different needs which limits access to healthcare resulting in many individuals being unable to benefit from the treatment they require.

Just as with any change, there are pros and cons to it. With offline counseling, intangible details like empathy and non-verbal communication (body language) are palpably felt whereas that can be a little challenging for the client to feel and for the therapist to notice- given the limited visuals a screen can offer. This is also important to form a personal connection with the therapist and client which is harder to do over a screen and/or takes more time.

There are some mental health concerns that require and benefit more from in person interactions such as addiction and substance use related concerns, psychosis, severe OCD.

However, research has shown that online counselling can be (and is) quite effective- having been the norm for almost 2 years. This research has been done pertaining to anxiety - social anxiety and generalised anxiety in particular- and mild to moderate depression. For individuals who experienced burnout during the pandemic, online counseling was preferred.

With respect to the time it takes to form a personal connection with the therapist- this pandemic has shown us that it can be challenging but not impossible and can certainly be beneficial. Going from my own work experience (as well as my colleagues), most of my current clients in therapy have been via online counselling- without having met each other in person. Even with the improvements in the situation, many clients located in the same city have preferred to stick to online counselling as a result of the convenience it offers and lack of commute time. There is also something about being in one’s own home that helps clients feel more at ease as starting therapy can be nerve wracking.

This has also helped those who face the stigma of seeking offline help actually get the mental health support they need through the online medium. It has reduced the barriers for individuals who may never have sought help in the first place. The greater the understanding of the motivating factors behind seeking help, the better it is for healthcare providers to ensure it is accessible to those who need it and want it.

In conclusion, nothing can replace the in person experience of therapy and all that it comes with - the personal connection, palpable empathy, non-verbal communication- but the benefits of online counselling are undeniable and a hybrid model seems to be the way forward for mental healthcare.

However, the medium of counselling is and always will be a personal preference- it is up to each individual to choose what works best for them (with respect to how it feels, affordability, convenience and so on) and to try both, before making a decision.

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