Explanations of Distance Counseling Limitations
Distance Counseling can be very beneficial for clients, but it may not be the best fit for some situations. I hope that the below explanations can be helpful to you in determining whether Distance Counseling might be appropriate for you.
Not Identical to In-Person Experience
Video conferencing technology has advanced significantly over the years and now enables two people to interact face-to-face online in a way that closely approximates being in the same room. However, due to the fact that webcams can never be physically placed exactly where one is looking on the screen there is usually a slight mismatch between where one is looking and what the other person is seeing. In other words, if your webcam is on top of your monitor (or laptop screen), and you are looking at the face of the other person on the screen, then initially they may not experience you as looking directly at them because you are not looking directly at your webcam. And of course if you do look directly at your webcam you are not able to look at the other person in order to view their facial expressions. So this logistical dynamic can make eye contact feel a little different at first when interacting via two-way video counseling. But my experience has been that this limitation becomes less noticeable over time.
Different Logistical Requirements
When you physically come to my counseling office this requires you to navigate traffic, locate my building, etc.—these are expected requirements in daily life. When you have an online video counseling session the logistical requirements are different. You need to provide for yourself a private space, free of distractions where you can have your online counseling sessions. You also need to be at least somewhat comfortable with using technology (e.g., logging into a website, interacting via webcam, etc.).
Different Potential for Interruptions
With online video counseling there is some potential for interruption, and though the frequency of interruptions is typically low, there is the possibility that an interruption in a online counseling session could be longer than a minute or two. This is because online counseling is dependent on both the client and the counselor’s internet connections as well as each person’s computer. If either person’s internet connection is temporarily disconnected, or either person’s computer freezes or crashes, then the online counseling session will be interrupted. While the internet connection at my office is a business-quality connection that is very stable and reliable, disconnects can happen. Additionally, I use a high-quality, reliable computer for online video counseling, but no computer is completely immune to random software or hardware glitches.
It is important for you to be aware of the possibility of technological interruptions, and make note of the reliability of the technology you intend to use for online counseling (e.g., your internet connection and computer). In the event of a technical interruption that lasts more than several minutes I do utilize phone sessions as a fall back so that the session can continue. Though I use phone sessions when online sessions are temporarily not possible I typically only do on-going Distance Counseling sessions via online video sessions.
Less Suitable for Some Counseling Needs
Distance Counseling is less ideal than in-person counseling for some counseling goals. For example, with couple’s counseling it can be challenging for more than one client (i.e., the couple) to share the same webcam. This can be helped by each spouse/partner being at their own computer, with their own webcam, but this then changes the dynamics somewhat of how they relate to each other. Sometimes this can be beneficial (e.g., if they tend to fight less when physically separated), and sometimes it is a hindrance to the couple’s counseling process. Additionally, couples that are stuck in intense conflictual patterns are probably better served by meeting with a counselor in-person instead of via online video sessions. This is because the couple may respond better to an in-person counselor’s intervening in their conflict due to the psychological impact of the counselor being physically present in the same room.
There also might be some individual counseling issues for which physical proximity to the counselor is important for the client, and thus Distance Counseling would be less ideal in those situations.
Finally, Distance Counseling is not suitable for individuals who are actively making attempts to take their own life (i.e., are actively suicidal). Note that there is a difference between someone feeling down, not wishing to be in pain, and even wishing they “weren’t here anymore” and someone who is actively planning out and taking steps toward trying to take their own life. People can experience the former without ever seriously considering, or trying, to take their own life.
All potential clients are welcome to have a trial session at half-price in order to explore whether Distance Counseling might be a good fit for them and what they are wanting to work on. Please note that I primarily serve adult individual clients via Distance Counseling, and that I do not usually see couples, adolescents or children via online video sessions.