How long does it take to complete one million words of online counselling and online therapy? If you’re Managing Editor Greg Mulhauser, it apparently takes a little less than 3 years. A few weeks ago, the total volume of counselling emails between Mulhauser and his clients surpassed one million words — apparently making Mulhauser the first online practitioner in the history of the field to document this volume of individual online therapeutic work.
Although I didn’t notice it when it happened, some time within the last few weeks, the total volume of emails I’ve exchanged with individual online counselling and online therapy clients surpassed 1 million words for the first time since I began keeping records in this way in January 2004. (Having begun online practice in 2003, I suppose the 1 million mark was reached even earlier, but going back to analyse the earlier traffic before my current recording systems were in place doesn’t seem worth the effort.)
Apparently, this makes me the first practitioner in the field to report this volume of fully documented, fully peer supervised, online therapeutic work with clients. (I believe this to be the case based upon the published literature, but if you know otherwise, I hope you’ll give me a shout — or post in the comments section — and I’ll be sure to update this article with any appropriate corrections!)
Just to give an idea of scale, a PhD dissertation usually weighs in at somewhere between 60,000 and 100,000 words — so 1 million words is something like between 10 and 17 PhD dissertations. Obviously, the content is completely different than a PhD dissertation! But this might give an idea, in terms of sheer size, of the extent of personal thoughts and feelings shared over the last couple of years.
Sometimes people have asked why I record volumes with a measure like word counts, and the reason is very simple: for asynchronous work (e.g., email), there are very few other measures which give an honest representation of how much work is really being done. Quite a few would-be ‘experts’ in online mental health prefer to cite the number of years they’ve been writing about the field (without necessarily doing very much with real human clients). Others are fond of mentioning how many different ‘contacts’ they’ve had from potential online clients, often numbering into the thousands (but again, without necessarily indicating whether they did any real work with all those potential clients). Still others prefer to include the number of subscribers to a mailing list or discussion forum, believing that that counts as ‘group therapy’, and so all those people are clients.
As you can probably tell, different people prefer different measures — with the choice sometimes influenced by which measure makes them look the best.
(This is one of the many ethical challenges that continue to dog a field still dominated largely by people who write great articles but don’t necessarily do much real online clinical work. You can see some of my own views in an old post on these ethical challenges: .)
For my part, I just like to use the measure which I believe means the most — something that reflects the real substance of how client and counsellor alike may sit down and write and reflect and share their hearts and minds. Until someone invents a ‘mind meter’ for clocking up therapeutic process hours, I believe word counts convey more information than any other measure for asynchronous ways of working.
Most importantly, I’d like to say thank you to my clients, past, present, and future, for sharing their lives with me over the last 1 million words and into the next million, and for helping me to learn so much along the way.
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