Vivian Chiona is the founder and director of Expat Nest (www.expatnest.com), which provides emotiona...
Online counselling: help for the busy expat and more..01 April 2014, by Vivian Chiona
We buy health services online; we ask for advice or recommendations online; we express feelings and thoughts on blogs, forums and via social media; we make deals online with business partners on the other side of the world; and we even find love online...
So why not seek professional help online too?
If you didn’t know about online counselling or have never considered it before, and if you would like to try it, here are some important things you should know.
What is online counselling?
It’s counselling you access through your internet-connected computer, tablet or smart phone. You can chat to your counsellor through online voice call services like Skype or Facetime, or through online messaging or email. (Though not technically "online", consultation via telephone is also widely used.)
Personally, I encourage expats to use voice (video or audio only, depending on what makes you feel most comfortable) rather than messaging, as the former appears to be a more effective counselling tool and it protects your privacy better as there are no transcripts.
Main benefits of online counselling
Online counselling is a flexible alternative that best serves people with specific profiles, especially people who spend a lot of time travelling. The main benefits are:
Your counsellor is just a click away, no matter where you are in the world.
Receive support in the comfort of your own home or environment; no wasting time on commuting.
Online counselling offers help without borders. Services can be offered at more flexible times than face-to-face counselling: evenings, weekends and across different time zones.
Research (for example Wagner, Horn & Maercker (2013)) shows that online counselling is equally effective - provided, of course, that you work with a qualified, experienced and well-trained counsellor.
Why online counselling is ideal for expats
In the expat’s mobile life, sometimes the only constant is online technology. Most expats are already using the internet to communicate with their loved ones. Though life presents challenges for all individuals, expatriates often have to deal with additional dilemmas exacerbated by a transition-rich lifestyle.
With the help of online technology, they can now access an experienced, expat-specialised counsellor wherever they are in the world.
Online counselling is particularly valuable for:
› Those with a busy lifestyle. If you are exhausted after work, you may prefer to go online rather than spend more time and energy commuting.
› Individuals who live in an isolated area or in an area with few specialised services for expats.
› Those who live in a close-knit or smaller community in which "everybody knows everybody" and who therefore prefer not to talk to the local counsellor.
› Individuals who experience mobility or health issues.
› People who struggle with leaving the house.
› People who prefer online communication / technology and for whom it is a natural part of their lifestyle.
› Carers or stay-at-home parents who are unable to take even a short break from their responsibilities.
› Individuals who travel frequently for work or are too busy to commit to regular face-to-face appointments.
› Those who find it easier to open up online.
› Those who are not sure about trying counselling or are not motivated to try face-to face counselling often find it’s a good first step to receiving professional support.
How does online voice (Skype) counselling work?
First, get in touch with a counsellor. Email or phone them to arrange an initial consultation to discuss what you are seeking help with.
Then ensure you prep for the consultation, by making sure before your first session that you have enough privacy, you are comfortable and that your internet connection is functioning.
Make sure you check your feelings during the consultation. See how you feel about receiving counselling in this way and if you are happy with your counsellor’s style of working.
Allow yourself a couple of sessions to get used to counselling - and doing it online - and let the counsellor know how he/she can make the process easier for you.
Be careful to pay safely. In most cases your counsellor will ask that you pay before the session, so make sure that all payments are done in a secure online environment.
How do I know I can trust the online counsellor?
Apply the same criteria as would to a face-to-face counsellor. Make sure you ask about the counsellor’s credentials, qualifications and experience.
You can also ask about their method of working with clients, what they charge and if this is covered by insurance. From this year on, Dutch insurance companies officially cover online counselling sessions.
Check to which professional body the counsellor belongs. For example, I am a member of the NIP (Dutch Association of Psychologists). Browse the counsellor’s website (every single page) so as to get a clear picture of who this person is, what their philosophy is and how you can benefit from the services on offer.
I would love to hear from you. Would you try online counselling? Why or why not? What would make you think twice before attempting it?