6.2 Online counselling chat protocol

The following example (provided by Kate Antony from the Online Therapy Institute) gives you a taste of the specific features and challenges of text-based online counselling.

Activity 18: Online counselling chat protocol

Timing: Allow approximately 60 minutes

You can explore the synchronous one-to-one online chat session in different ways:

  • You can follow the chat between the client and the counsellor ‘as live’ in close to real time.
  • Alternatively, you may prefer to read the chat at your own speed. If you click on the ‘Next’ button, the next statement appears. You can also speed up the display of the chat by changing the speed setting from ‘×1’ to ‘×8’. You can also pause or restart the chat by pressing the appropriate buttons – this allows you to reflect on how you would respond to the client before you see the therapist’s response.
  • Click on ‘Print’ to read (or print out) the whole session transcript.
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Use the space below to answer the following questions:

  • What is the arrangement in case there is a disconnection during the session?
  • Do the client or therapist use specific techniques to express themselves, such as capital letters to symbolise shouting, or emoticons?
  • Are there any links between the times it takes the client to respond and the content of the response?
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Discussion

One advantage of text-based online counselling you might have noticed during this activity is that there is a written record of the session. This allows both the client and the counsellor to go back and review the interaction to see what they have learned from the session, and what they might want to address in the next session.

  • If they are disconnected there’s an agreement to log in again, and to reschedule if no connection can be made after 10 or 15 minutes.
  • In a few places the client uses upper-case words to stress emotional content.
  • There can be many reasons for long response times, but it is useful to check if they are related to the counselling process. So for example, the long time for the response at 15:58:22 might be linked to the client’s rejection of the therapist’s interpretation – something that clients might find easier to do online.

Pause for reflection

Do you think that the counselling approach(es) you are working with is/are suited to text-based online counselling?

Discussion

In practice, a variety of therapeutic orientations and integrative approaches can be adopted for working with text-based online counselling. Core conditions for building a strong therapeutic relationship online – for example, congruence, empathy or positive regard – can be expressed with the written word. CBT techniques such as thought diaries or homework sheets are suitable for online counselling.

Practitioners and clients can work with compensatory techniques, such as typing ‘PFT’ (which stands for ‘Pause for thought’) to indicate the need for the silence in the room (which has not been caused by a technological breakdown).

The next section will introduce services that are located at the ‘high-tech’ end of the continuum of technology-based counselling services – standalone mental health apps and computer programs with no human interaction.

You should now move on to Topic 7: Mental health apps and computer programs [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .

6.1 The benefits and complexities of text-based counselling