Suitability of Counselling by Email: Is it For You?

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In addition to the articles on Advantages of Counselling by Email and the Disadvantages of Counselling by Email, a few specific questions are worth pondering before deciding to try out online therapy or counselling services.

About These Questions

There are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers to any of these questions, but reflecting on them may influence how appropriate you feel online therapy or counselling by email would be for you. In a few cases (such as suicidal or homicidal feelings), I don’t believe it’s appropriate to initiate counselling by email; in all such cases, I will clearly indicate this below.

Present Circumstances

Several specific factors from your current situation may be worth considering when you evaluate whether working online is right for you.

Are you presently working with another counsellor or therapist?

If you are presently working with another counsellor or therapist, in almost all situations I believe it would be best to discuss with them your interest in beginning email counselling. When I was in practice myself, my view was that if you decide to try my service while in another counselling relationship, I be glad to discuss with you the potential interaction between our counselling and your other counselling relationship. In some cases, I may not feel able to provide an effective service, but in others it may be possible. For example, I have previously worked with clients who are also undertaking hypnotherapy, and on many occasions, I have worked with clients who are in regular contact with a psychiatrist or other physician.

My general rule of thumb in such situations is that all three parties involved need to be fully informed and confident that the two working relationships can be developed and the counselling or other work undertaken in a fashion which is complementary and helpful.

Are you over 18 years of age?

Please note that some online therapists — myself included — only offer email counselling to clients over the age of 18.

Do you have specific suicidal or homicidal intent?

In my own practice, I am unable to work effectively with clients harbouring specific homicidal intent, because I feel ethically obliged to disclose serious threats to other people. I also do not feel email counselling is appropriate for clients experiencing specific suicidal feelings. If you are feeling suicidal, please consider contacting your physician or an organization such as The Samaritans or Befrienders International immediately.

Do you believe you are presently suffering from an acute psychiatric disorder requiring medical attention?

If this is the case, please seek medical attention first, and we can discuss email counselling second. When working with clients experiencing acute psychiatric distress, it is important that full psychiatric support is continuously available to the client.

Are you experiencing a severe crisis right now?

If you are presently experiencing a severe crisis which is impinging upon your overall functioning, it may be more appropriate to seek face-to-face support in your local area.

Would you like to discuss topics which require visual contact?

Try Online Counseling: Get Personally Matched

Some topics (such as visible physical disabilities) are less easily discussed via email, and if it is important to you that I can physically see you, email counselling would not be appropriate.

Using the Medium

Your overall level of comfort with computers and online technology will also naturally impact on how useful working online might be for you. Naturally, if you’re reading this, you already have some experience with online technology!

How comfortable are you expressing your thoughts and/or feelings via typewritten text?

Does this sound like a welcome opportunity to put things down in writing? Could it be challenging or frustrating?

Are you comfortable with communicating asynchronously?

In other words, are you comfortable with having to wait for a reply to your messages, rather than receiving an immediate response?

Are you comfortable with taking necessary security precautions on your own computer?

For your own privacy and confidentiality, it will be important to take care of your personal data on your computer. If you would like to take advantage of encryption support, would you be happy to install and configure appropriate encryption software?

Other Questions

And last but not least…

Are you a personal friend of the therapist or a member of his or her extended family?

Therapists committed to ethical practice almost always avoid forming ‘dual relationships’ (i.e., those which are simultaneously counselling relationships and something else) both in face-to-face and internet-based work. They will therefore not work as a counsellor with friends or family members.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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