3.3 Research on technology-based counselling

Before engaging in online counselling it’s important to consider the research. Is this form of counselling really effective?

Activity 11: Efficacy of online counselling: what does the research say?

Timing: Allow approximately 15 minutes

Read the following information:

  • Videoconferencing counselling: Various case studies have suggested that videoconferencing counselling can be an effective means of treatment delivery (Simpson, 2009). The frequent practice of integrating video and face-to-face sessions seems to show that videoconferencing might be seen more as a complement to face-to-face psychotherapy rather than as a substitute (Cipolleta et al., 2018).
  • Text-based online counselling: Research evaluating text-based online counselling generally tends to support the effectiveness of the interventions (Barak and Grohol, 2011; D’Arcy et al., 2015). In their meta-analysis comparing face-to-face and online therapy (based on 14 studies and 9764 clients), Barak et al. (2008) found no significant differences between therapy delivered face-to-face and online. Some evidence based on qualitative research suggests that online counselling might be a more comfortable and less threatening experience than a face-to-face session, which could be especially relevant for clients who experience social anxieties (Suler, 2010; D’Arcy et al., 2015).
  • Computerised/internet-based therapy programs: The evidence base for internet-based interventions in common mental health has significantly expanded in recent years; there are now more than 200 controlled trials for a range of disorders and conditions (Andersson, 2018). The evidence shows that these treatments often result in similar outcomes as conventional face-to-face psychotherapy (Berger, 2016; Fenger et al., 2016). Calbring et al. (2018) found that CCBT (computerised cognitive behavioural therapy) and face-to-face CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) produced equivalent overall effects for psychiatric and somatic disorders (based on 20 studies and 1418 clients).
  • Mental health apps: Apps on smartphone and available online are developed and changed at such a pace that it is difficult for researchers to evaluate the tools and their effectiveness in routine care (Bennion et al., 2017). While there is some evidence that well-designed and empirically-based applications have the potential to improve outcomes for users, the evidence of the effectiveness of many of these tools is still lacking (Anthes, 2016; Martinez and Farhan, 2019).

Use the space below to identify areas with strong or weak research evidence.

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There is sound research evidence supporting the effectiveness of text-based online counselling and computerised programs. For other types of technology-based counselling, such as many mental health apps, the evidence for their effectiveness is still lacking.

In the following section you will be introduced to the main forms of technology-based counselling on the high-touch–high-tech continuum, starting at the high-touch end with counselling using online video and audio platforms.

You should now move on to Topic 4: Counselling using videoconferencing platforms [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .

3.2 The online counselling relationship