6.1 The benefits and complexities of text-based counselling

In text-based online counselling, clients can benefit from the sole focus on writing/typing about thoughts and feelings, as suggested by the research literature on the therapeutic effects of expressive or reflective writing (Stuckey and Nobel, 2010; Goss, 2013). Research shows that expressive writing has the potential to alleviate stress and anxiety, and improve wellbeing and understanding of oneself, which can be explained by emotion regulation processes (Koole, 2009).

Writing about difficult experiences seems to help clients to reflect on deep thoughts and feelings, and to articulate interior processes (Rimé, 2009), thus facilitating one’s ability to cope with challenging experiences (Gortner et al., 2006). In text-based online counselling, we can utilise these benefits of reflective, focused writing by helping a client to explore and express their feelings (Wright, 2002).

However, the restriction of text-only means that everything that evolves between a counsellor and a client – empathy, trust, concerns, support, presence and bonding, to name just a few – needs to be conveyed and expressed via text. When working online, you will need to look for subtle cues within the material to develop a keen sense of expressed (and undisclosed) feelings and the individual style of your client, in the same way as you learn to read between the lines when seeing and listening to a client face-to-face.

Activity 17 helps you to learn about some widely used expression techniques (such as acronyms or emoticons) developed in digital communication to compensate for the lack of face-to-face cues and to add emotional depth.

Activity 17: Paralanguage/netiquette for online communication

Timing: Allow approximately 10 minutes

Drag and drop each emotional expression to the right acronym/emoticons. Click the ‘Reveal answer’ button when you are done to see if you got the right answers.

Using the following two lists, match each numbered item with the correct letter.

  1. LOL

  2. IMS

  3. Using upper-case text

  4. Putting words in brackets, e.g. ‘(grin)’

  5. Adding ‘…’ between words


  • b.Internal thought processes and meaningful pauses

  • c.Laugh out loud

  • d.Highlighting the emotional content behind words

  • e.I am sorry

The correct answers are:
  • 1 = c
  • 2 = e
  • 3 = a
  • 4 = d
  • 5 = b


Clients may use these and many other abbreviations and signs in creative ways to express themselves online. There is no harm in asking your client about their meaning and emotional content, if you are unsure. Using these words and symbols can create mental representations of the individuals involved and help to build an online relationship (Suler, 2004).

6 Text-based counselling

6.2 Online counselling chat protocol