Online counselling – your questions answered

Long before lockdown was declared, Wolverhampton and South Staffs Counselling Services (WSSCS) decided to shift therapy online to ensure the safety of clients and counsellors. Until it is safe to meet again face to face, we will continue to offer two forms of ‘remote’ counselling – via Zoom and telephone.  If you think you’d benefit from counselling, here’s a quick guide to online counselling, what you will need and how to prepare yourself for the sessions.

Online therapy has a long and respectable history going back to the late 1950s when closed circuit TV was first used in ‘tele-medicine’. Today, the options for mediated therapy have grown with online therapists providing support through telephone, video links, chat and email. Research shows that online counselling can be as effective as face to face and may even offer advantages.

WSSCS counsellor Mel Whyatt has benefited from online therapy herself. “Even though I never met my therapist in person, I came to have a powerful sense of her through the way she responded to me and over a short space of time, I came to trust her and to look forward greatly to our weekly sessions.

“Knowing how beneficial online counselling can be, I was determined to offer this option to clients at a time when many of us are struggling with our mental and emotional health.”

Melanie counsels people through telephone and Zoom. “It seems the telephone’s come back into fashion since lockdown. For many people it’s the very best way to keep in touch with friends and family. It works well for therapy too with people generally feeling more able to talk candidly about their feelings. You can also pick up a great deal from a tone of voice.”

So if you’re thinking about counselling, should you choose telephone or video?

Melanie said: “I offer would-be clients a free session to help them choose if I’m the right counsellor for them and to establish whether phone or video would work best. Generally, I’d recommend the device you’re most familiar with.”

What do you need if you opt for Zoom?

You can use it with:

  • Phones and tablets: IOS, Android and Blackberry
  • Mac OS X with Mac OS 10.6 (Snow Leopard) or later
  • Windows 7 or later.

You will also need to make sure:

  • Your device has webcam, microphone and speakers
  • You have a reliable internet connection.

If you are accessing Zoom from a mobile device, make sure you have at least 3G/4G connection.

Your counsellor schedules your session for the time and date you’ve agreed and either emails or texts the link to you. You just click on this to download the Zoom software.

Preparing for your session

To get the most out of your session, it’s important you find somewhere private where you won’t be overheard or interrupted. Melanie said: “Some clients even park up somewhere quite for therapy in their car.”

Make sure to switch off all devices including cloud-based voice services such as Alexa. It’s a good idea, if possible, to meet in the same location.

Find a seat that’s going to be comfortable enough for an hour – and arrange yourself as if you were in a face to face meeting. It helps if you have the light on your face, not behind you which makes it difficult to pick out your features. Dress as you would normally. You might also want to keep a box of tissues close at hand and some water.

It’s also a good idea to get yourself into a counselling ‘zone’. Melanie said:“I always advise clients to give themselves five to ten minutes quiet time before they switch on their device and the same time at the end of sessions. The counselling can be quite intense and sometimes even exhausting, so it’s a good idea to ease yourself back into your everyday.”

What if things go wrong?

Melanie said: “Before we start work together, I’ll send you some guidance notes including what to do if we have technology problems. This rarely happens, but when it does, I make sure we have a plan B.”

To arrange a free online counselling session, email Mel@wsscs.co.uk or call 07799761825.

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