Online & Phone Counselling Risks & Benefits
Today we have many options to choose from for mental health service delivery. Options may include: office based in-person services, online via a secure video platform, phone counselling, and site-based services or nature-based services.
Before engaging in any treatment, weigh the risks and benefits of each option offered, so you can find the best fit for you.
Some common things to consider when choosing a therapeutic approach may include:
· Time & availability of services
· Mode of delivery (e.g. phone, video, in-office)
· Finances and budgeting
· Therapeutic approach
· Clinician fit/tools offered
· Comfort with technology
To help anyone seeking mental health services make an informed choice, this blog post focuses on the advantages and disadvantages of Telepsychology services: counselling over the phone or via a secure video platform.
Online/Phone Counselling Advantages
Online/phone counselling’s first obvious advantage is there is no commuting. No more traffic to deal with, flat tires or public transport. Commuting can be stressful for some individuals, so taking away this barrier can make the therapy experience more convenient.
Online/phone sessions also provide flexible options during session that in-person services do not such as being able to work on the problems where they are most troublesome. For example, we can look at environmental changes to make life easier, do behavior training/habit training, have access to sensory items, food, water, etc. Online therapy also provides opportunities for increased access to technology such as collaborative whiteboards and worksheets.
It can be much more comfortable for people to do counselling from the comfort of their own home. For example, some people may find they can wear more comfortable pants that they wouldn’t wear out of the house, or their dinosaur onesie.
Pets and Supports
If pets are not disruptive then I encourage clients to bring their furry friends into session. Animal-assisted interventions can be helpful for calming and exploring experientially in session. Online and phone counselling sessions provide more robust opportunities to incorporate a wide variety of pets into therapy. Many office-based services do not allow pets, and in addition some pets do not travel well and would not be able to come into an in-person session even if the office/location allowed it.
In addition to pets, online/phone counselling may provide the advantage of making it easier for other support network individuals to collaborate in session and support the individual. For example, it may be easier to consult with another service provider and the client at the same time or have a loved one/support person join the session if needed.
More Choice & Accessibility
Telepsychology services provide opportunities for individuals seeking mental health services to choose from many more service providers than ever before, as they can choose from clinicians across Alberta, not just within their city.
Online/Phone counselling is also a great option for those who live in rural communities where there may be limited choices, or in some cases no access to services.
Telepsychology sessions may be experienced differently than in-person sessions, and there are some potential risks to using online counselling services that are different from in-person sessions. These risks may include the following:
Online and phone counselling have the disadvantage of reduced social cues. As you can’t see the other individual over the phone, this becomes an increased risk with phone counselling compared to online counselling. With video counselling some social cues are still lost, as you cannot typically see the whole individual.
Some individuals do not prefer online or phone services and some therapeutic methods are not as effective for online or phone counselling. For example, online and phone counselling services may result in a decrease in the ability to assess or support individuals in crisis, and therefore may not be appropriate for emergency situations. In addition, if you do not have a good internet connection then counselling via video may be less suitable than phone or in-person services.
Online and phone sessions have an increased risk of interruption to sessions, as the internet goblins do get us sometimes: technical issues including time delays or poor internet speeds may temporarily interrupt session. Family members, traffic, noise, and pets can also be disruptive (or an advantage): depending on the situation. A cat butt on the screen mid-session may provide comic relief or come at an untimely moment, as cats have a talent for sniffing out prime opportunities for disruption.
Security & Confidentiality
Anyone considering using telehealth and video counselling services should also consider the risk of data transmission, as all data transmitted via the internet is not 100% secure. I use a secure video platform for my sessions, but hackers are always a risk that people should consider when engaging in telepsychology services.
As sessions do not take place in a soundproof office, there is also the increased risk of public discovery and being overheard by others. To help mitigate this risk, ensure that for online counselling and phone sessions you are in a quiet, private space.
To minimize the risks of online and phone counselling services and to ensure the best possible experience, see this blog post on Tips for Therapy.