E-counseling or online counseling is a controversial form of psychological counseling that uses distance communication technologies to deliver a variety of mental health services, including therapy, consultation or psycho-education[1]. These services are provided by a certified specialist and can take place via telephone, e-mail, chat or videoconferencing.

E-counseling is suitable for people who are looking for guidance in solving everyday problems. For more severe conditions, specialists strongly recommend patients to seek conventional face-to-face therapy.

Goals of E-counseling

Psychological counseling via the internet is predominantly concerned with the normal development of individuals. This form of therapy seeks to help patients cope with everyday problems, such as work, and life transitions. The goal is to empower the client by finding areas he can control and successfully manage. The emphasis lies on the client’s strengths rather than behavioral short-comings.

When is E-counseling Used

Research so far suggests that e-counseling may benefit clients that don’t have access to face-to-face therapy, for instance people living in rural areas. The advantage of easy access can also prove useful for providing mental health services for people with disabilities or inmates who can’t leave the correctional facilities.

Another advantage of e-counseling is that it can offer support at the right moment. The patient can seek help exactly when he feels he needs professional counseling without having to wait for an appointment. Furthermore, by seeking treatment outside the therapist’s office, the client will feel less dependent. Online counseling is recommended for short-term treatments, self-help interventions and cognitive-behavioral treatments.

This form of counseling has been used in treating symptoms of depression, anxiety, panic, stress as well as relationship difficulties or academic concerns.

How e-counseling Works

Online therapy has widely spread through various services on the Internet. E-counseling can be conducted on multiple platforms that can suit their needs.

Some psychotherapy clients can be more receptive to communicating with therapists via e-mail, especially when addressing issues that may be difficult to discuss face-to-face. People dealing with issues that have an element of risk such as addictions or phobias might find it more comforting to express their issues in writing[2].

“Online counseling helps to clarify my own thought process. I can rethink and rewrite my comments. I couldn’t do that in face-to-face counseling. I can reread Dawn’s [Dawn Schell, a e-counselor] comments, which are often profound and moving. I can respond whenever and however I wish. I can even print out the sessions to reflect on. In the past, when I left an in-person session with a therapist, I often felt better, but I couldn’t always recall exactly what we talked about”, says Kathy[3], a client of an online platform that offers e-counseling.

People who prefer more interactive sessions can use videoconferencing.

The process varies from website to website. Most platforms that offer mental health services have a special section which offers detailed information regarding the way sessions are conducted[4].

Criticism of E-counseling

E-counseling is not suitable for people suffering from serious mental health problems such as suicidal tendencies, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia[5].

Researchers have also suggested that by undergoing therapy for the comfort of his home, the patient might present more self-control. This can prove a challenge for the therapist in that the patient may hold back.

The space barrier of e-counseling may also jeopardize a meaningful connection between therapist and client. This sort of relationship is needed so that the patient can feel he is in a safe environment.

“The Internet and e-mail communication are ubiquitous. We have no doubt that cyber-counseling will continue to grow and soon become as unsurprising as online shopping or banking. However, the tremendous importance to successful counseling of establishing a solid relationship in the form of the therapeutic alliance presents a challenge”, argue Lawrence Murphy and Don Mitchell from Worldwide Therapy Inc[6].

Practitioners of online counseling should be aware of the ethical and legal issues as well. Due to the fact that online therapy does not deal with real-world interaction, some patients may become upset. Also, patients might bring up the issues of personal information confidentiality.

“All the online therapists should obtain informed consent, which is the legal procedure oriented to make sure that the patient knows and realizes all the points, risks and costs of online therapy treatment”, recommend Michael J. Mallen and David L. Vogel.

Another disadvantage is that therapists cannot properly respond to the crisis situations. If the person gets nervous and loses control, the therapist is unable to set his mind at rest as conversation is done in a virtual world.


[1] Michael J. Mallen and David L. Vogel, Introduction to the Major Contribution: Counseling Psychology and Online Counseling, The Counseling Psychologist 2005

[2] Sarasohn-Kahn S, 2012, The Online Coach: Mental Health Care on the Web

[3] Therapy Online

[4] Lee, S. 2010, Online Therapy - Technologies in Human Services

[5] E-counseling, University of Brighton

[6] Lawrence MURPHY and Dan MITCHELL, Overcoming the Absence of Tone and Non-Verbal Elements of Communication in Text-Based Cybercounselling

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