Online counselling is a heterogeneous concept. It can be conducted through a wide variety of channels, either synchronously or asynchronously. This also gives rise to different ways of counselling: from moderated forum and on through one-to-one or group chats, (video) telephony to asynchronous writing, that is classic email counselling.
What all these methods have in common is that they use the Internet as a medium and thus offer a location-independent and (to various extents) anonymous opportunity to go with your problems to a counsellor.
The advantages of asynchronous online counselling
As an online counsellor, I like writing asynchronously. Almost like writing letters, but written on a computer instead of pen and paper. Then sent not by post but rather via the Internet.
Because writing (if you actually like it) combines the advantages of online counselling with those of writing or poetry therapy.
- Writing and reading can take place independently of time. The client can sit down and write to me whenever she has time and can give it proper attention. It’s exactly the same for me as counsellor.
- Writing is an act of reflection per se. If the client writes about herself and her problems, the first level of distance arises: there’s an “I” who is writing about “the problem”.
- Writing means capturing your own thoughts and feelings in words. Often our thoughts and feelings only become clear once we formulate and write them down.
- Writing involves a certain archiving effect. A word that is written carries more weight than one that is spoken and wafts away. (Which is why it is often also all the more important to write within a dedicated solution space.) Clients can simply access old messages and check what might have helped them in similar situations in the past.
- As you write, an internal dialogue takes place between “the problem” and the “solution-oriented self”, maybe with the internalised counsellor too.
- Written words don’t communicate social codes. As counsellor, I don’t know what my client looks like, how she sounds, what she’s wearing. That can help her to open up and show more of herself (the somewhat paradoxical “stranger on the train” effect). She also has control over what she gives away about herself and what she doesn’t. That can help her to practice the often difficult balancing act between closeness and distance.
Closeness despite distance
In practice what happens is that I print longer messages from my clients first in order to make them more tangible and to move a little from network to reality. With a pencil in my hand, I read the text and make notes or underline. I note for myself what thoughts, feelings and questions are running through my head, what words or phrases strike me. Where I would like to ask questions. What surprises or irritates me. Sometime answers emerge quickly and intuitively, whilst other times I can be glad of the delete button on my computer.
But I’m always surprised how quickly closeness can be achieved just through the written word, and the solution spaces to which writing leads us…
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