Online counselling

In a world where we carry out the majority of our activities over the internet and increasingly more people of all ages spend significant amounts of time online, it is clear that cyberculture is here to stay. You may already use the internet for shopping, banking, conferences, education and learning, socialising, dating, running an online business or getting medical advice. It does not seem that surprising that counselling is also available online. But does online counselling seem like a step too far? Surely, the important part of counselling is to see the person face to face?  Many people would argue that non verbal body language constitutes the majority of communication. So how can online counselling help and how does it differ from in person counselling? Some of the advantages of online counselling are:

Access

Online counselling means that many more people can access a counselling service. Some examples are: If you live in a rural area or live with disabilities that make travelling to a counsellor’s office difficult. You may have hearing difficulties and cannot access a counsellor with sign language skills nearby, you may have a phobia or other condition and you have become housebound. You may be very busy and want to save on travel time and cost or you may be living abroad.

Cost

Online sessions may be cheaper and you save on travelling costs and the time of travel.

Flexibility

Although most online counselling is similar to in-person counselling where you arrange an appointment, there tends to be more flexibility in the times of sessions being offered and also being able to switch to different media of communication, e.g. you may start with email counselling, but may want to switch to a session over IM (instant message) or audio. Or you may be abroad and the internet connection may not be strong enough for video/audio calls or the time difference does not allow for a suitable time of a session, in which case you can switch to email sessions during that time.

There are different interface options in online counselling:

  • Email therapy (an exchange of emails between client and counsellor)
  • Instant messaging (client and counsellor communicate live via written form)
  • Audio call (without any visual input)
  • Video call (the closest to seeing someone in person, although you may only see the upper part of a person).

Whilst some of this may sound strange in a context of counselling, in fact, it is not dissimilar to forms of communication that we already know. Email counselling is similar to writing letters and can help the client and the counsellor to reflect on what they are writing. Written forms also provide a record which can be reviewed after the sessions. Voice skype calls are essentially the same as telephone calls and the video calls are somewhere between a telephone call and in person counselling. When thinking of classic psychoanalysis, sessions were carried out with the client sitting lying on the couch and the psychoanalyst sitting behind them, so that the patient could feel free in their flow of thoughts and reflections.

Online presence and communication

As mentioned above there may be concerns about how to gauge what someone is saying without visual cues. However, when you think of events in your life, you may be able to think of examples of when you felt someone’s feelings over the phone, perhaps by the tone of their voice, or when you read someone’s email and sensed their emotions or the type of person they are. It’s all about reading between the lines. One of the pitfalls of written communication is that misunderstandings can happen more easily. However, a trained online counsellor will know to clarify any potential misunderstandings and of course these happen during verbal exchanges too. A trained online counsellor will also be able to convey their presence and empathy in an online context and use their therapeutic skills appropriately for the benefit the client. Another potential hazard of online sessions is the possible disruption of internet. If brief, the session can resume; if extensive disruption happens, the session may need to be carried out via a different medium or rearranged for another time. Another point for consideration is that complete confidentiality cannot be guaranteed online, however, an online counsellor will ensure to make the sessions as secure as possible and advise the client of any limitation and possible alternatives.

How do different theoretical approaches translate into an online context?

Different approaches can be adapted to an online counselling medium. In fact, online CBT sessions have been offered for a while. Most principles from humanistic and integrative and transpersonal psychotherapy can be applied and even creative ways of working can be used online. Meditation techniques can also be taught during online sessions.

This is an area of counselling and technology that is constantly evolving and it is exciting to see how many more clients can benefit from counselling.

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What is a spiritual approach to psychotherapy?

Whenever people ask me about the way I work as a psychotherapist I say that I take a spiritual approach to psychotherapy. This often needs further explanation as the word ‘spiritual’ may have different connotations for you and others.

Let me begin by saying what spiritual psychotherapy is not. It is not religious. For me, there is a difference between religious, which I perceive as being based on a particular faith and spiritual. Religious people may be spiritual, but spiritual people are not necessarily religious in terms of following a particular religion/faith.

So what is spiritual? The word itself indicates it is related to ‘spirit’. Again this can bring up different meanings and feelings for you. For me, spirit is simply a non physical part of our being which knows more about us than our everyday consciousness. It can also be described as the true self, the real self, higher self, supra consciousness, etc.

The original meaning of the word ‘psychotherapy’ comes from Greek, meaning ‘healing of the soul’ [psyche (soul) and therapeia (healing)]. I like this definition as I find it a great reminder of what therapy is about or can be about, which for me is healing at a deep level.

My training was in transpersonal psychotherapy and counselling. ‘Transpersonal’ is a lovely way to describe that which lies beyond the ‘personal’, i.e. the ‘I’ and moves into the realm of the higher self nature. You may wonder if transpersonal and psycho-spiritual psychotherapists only deal with the spiritual aspects of the self. That is not so. Transpersonal psychotherapy training includes the major approaches to counselling and psychotherapy. As a result, I also work with recognising links and patterns from the past, with changing thoughts and behaviour and looking at the potential in each person towards growth, as well as working with the more spiritual aspects if appropriate.

So what does it have to do with psychotherapy?

If you want to make real changes to yourself, I think it is essential to connect with your true self. Who are you really underneath all the difficulties that you face? What are you learning? What qualities are you developing or need to develop? By connecting more with that core part of yourself you can have access to a part that can transcend the difficulties that you may identify with.

So how does this all translate into practice?

There are different ways that I use this practically. Firstly, I hold the perspective of each human as a true self longing to grow, as a framework in my mind and heart. Each person is unique and brings different issues and goals to therapy, so I take my lead from the person in how far the spiritual aspect becomes a direct way of working or not. Therefore, you do not need to feel spiritual or have any interest in spirituality to benefit from a psycho-spiritual approach to counselling and psychotherapy. You can experience great healing and relief from being able to share your story in a safe, confidential and non judgemental space. That may be all you want. Perhaps you simply want to learn strategies to reduce symptoms of stress, anxiety, depression, relationship or family issues for example. Or you want to make more lasting changes to yourself that are underlying your symptoms, especially if have recurring difficulties and patterns of behaviour that are limiting your life satisfaction.

Whereas most psychotherapies aim to help you to become a more balanced and integrated person, to help you manage stress and find more fulfilment in life, a spiritual approach also allows for a very positive way of understanding difficulties and connect with parts of yourself that you were unaware of.  In addition, I find that the spiritual heart can help to reduce and clear many negative emotions and can help you to function from a place of loving kindness and compassion to yourself and others, which is fundamental to greater happiness.

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Time to talk

If you would like to talk to someone other than your friends or family, you may wonder if counselling/psychotherapy is right for you and how it works.

There are times in life when we struggle; we may feel overwhelmed and we cannot cope with everyday demands anymore. This may be due to an external event that happened (e.g. relationship break up, illness, loss, abuse etc) or something you want to change (lack of confidence, addiction, making major decisions etc.). It can be very helpful when you talk to someone who can really listen to you. This helps you to feel understood and supported and you have the opportunity to find ways to cope better and to transform the cause of the pain depending on your circumstances.

So how does it work?

In terms of the process of therapy, I see it more as an art than a science. Many studies have shown that the relationship with a therapist is key to a positive outcome. Therefore, to some extent, it is less important what modality (i.e. theoretical approach/techniques) a therapist uses. What is important in the relationship between client and counsellor/therapist is the basis of trust and confidentiality.

Through the therapeutic relationship, you can feel heard, understood and accepted. This in itself is often very helpful in the healing process. Also, through specific questions and other methods of exploration used by the therapist, you gain greater self-awareness, which helps you to feel more at ease with yourself and others, therefore can improve your relationship with others too. It is an opportunity to feel validated and also challenged where change and growth is called for.

If you have any further questions, or would like to book an initial counselling session in East London or online, please do not hesitate to contact me on: info@heartfulnesstherapy.com or on 07985 220014

 

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