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.

You can type text here, but this facility requires a free OU account. Sign in or register.
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

Discussion

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