André Wheeler wrote an interesting piece in The Guardian at the beginning of August. It was called: ‘My pandemic epiphany: how I fell in love with online counselling.’ (The Guardian, 7 Aug 2020).
In it he talks about his trepidation at the thought of having to connect with a therapist online, his nervousness during the first session, then gradually beginning to feel more at ease, until he actually began to feel a sense of buoyancy after the sessions.
At the end of therapy, he noticed how comfortable he felt logging on, angling the webcam, feeling the normality of the experience, grateful that he was able to connect with a therapist during lock-down.
For me it encapsulates how we approach something new or something we’re afraid of. We imagine the worst case, we play the ‘what if’ game, we assure ourselves that the old ways are the best, and anything new must be the work of the devil.
I admit that online therapy may not be for everyone, but in my experience most who try it find that the benefits are many.
For one thing, there’s no travelling. No rushing around to get to the session, taking public transport or driving and worrying about finding a parking space.
There’s the fact that you are in your environment, usually at home, feeling relaxed and secure. You’re on your home turf, and that can actually make opening up a little easier.
Therapy can be on the phone, by email or via video such as Zoom or Skype – and all of these are easily accessible and easy to use.
A 2009 paper in the British Journal of Guidance & Counselling found that ‘session impact’ and the therapeutic alliance were similar in online modes of counselling to face to face in a university setting. (‘Features and benefits of online counselling: Trinity College online mental health community’ British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, vol 37, No.3, p231-242).
The key for me is the ‘therapeutic alliance’ – this is the relationship between the therapist and client. And I believe this can be made on the phone, by video or by email – it’s about the quality of the connection (that’s the human connection – not the Internet speed!)
There is a demand for a more innovative provision of therapy, so while the pandemic has perhaps hastened the change in therapy, I believe that alternative modes of providing therapy are here to stay.
And if that means that more people can get the help they need in an easier, more accessible way, then I'm all for it.