Yes we are open COVID-19 Update

What You Should Know About Online Counseling

Over this past year, we’ve experienced an extraordinary shift in our day-to-day lives. The COVID-19 pandemic has permanently changed the way we work, learn, and communicate with others, knocking our minds into a state of uncertainty. With all that’s happening in the world, it’s no wonder many of us are feeling anxious, stressed, and overwhelmed.

In these unprecedented times, keeping our mental health in check becomes more important than ever. This can be an ongoing challenge, especially for those facing the new realities of unemployment, social isolation, or physical inactivity. In response, many people have turned to online counselling as a means of coping. What is online counselling, and how exactly does it work?

Recently, a number of practices have shifted from traditional, face-to-face counselling to online counselling via technologies such as videoconferencing or telephone (i.e., ‘Telehealth’). This allows individuals to access support in real-time from the safety of their own homes, and protects health practitioners by reducing the number of unnecessary visits to clinics. Additionally, given the increased feelings of anxiety and loneliness caused by social distancing and quarantine regulations, online counselling has been invaluable as a means of staying connected with the outside world.

Although COVID-19 certainly accelerated the growth of online counselling, its benefits remain in play even in the post-pandemic context. Telehealth, in its many forms, offers the convenience of being able to connect to a practitioner simply by turning on the computer or picking up a phone, giving individuals the freedom to follow their own schedules. This increases the availability of healthcare services for those that live in rural areas, have transportation or mobility issues, or are just simply time-poor. Moreover, the ability to access remote healthcare removes the stress associated with traffic, childcare, or taking time off school or work. This makes it easier to prioritise your wellbeing, even when playing catch-up with the hustle and bustle of life.

To some, the idea of talking to someone face-to-face can also be rather confronting, especially when discussing more personal issues. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is even more difficult for individuals who are struggling with anxiety. Online counselling offers a promising alternative for those who feel more comfortable expressing their thoughts online, or who simply prefer to be in their own space. Some Telehealth platforms also provide tools designed to replicate the in-person counselling experience, which can help to establish a more comfortable environment for both client and practitioner. For example, ‘Zoom’, one of the most widely used teleconferencing programs throughout the world, allows users to draw diagrams and create other shared resources on a virtual whiteboard. The ability to set up separate ‘breakout’ rooms also makes group therapy sessions possible, which can be a valuable source of support during these times of intensified social disconnection. Together, these tools can supplement the online counselling experience by improving engagement and strengthening the therapeutic relationship.

In fact, research has found online counselling to be equally as effective as face-to-face counselling, particularly for treatment of depression, anxiety or stress. A study from 2008 showed that people who received online counselling through a variety of Telehealth platforms did not differ to those who received face-to-face counselling, in terms of treatment outcomes and the quality of their therapeutic relationships. Additionally, the structured design of most psychological treatments, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) or Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT), means they can be effectively delivered either online or in person.

While the pandemic has been uniquely challenging for everyone, the deregulation of Telehealth has been a welcome change to the Australian healthcare system. The government recently announced their decision to extend Medicare-subsidised Telehealth services to March 2021, after it was due to expire in September 2020. This not only increases access to essential healthcare services during these times of uncertainty, but also opens the door to a more widespread adoption of online healthcare, even when COVID-19 has run its course.

Ultimately, the pandemic represents a real opportunity to improve the quality of healthcare moving forward. The accelerated uptake of Telehealth has broadened our outlook towards online counselling, providing insights into how we can develop more innovative, blended models of care tailored to the different lifestyles and needs of individuals. As we navigate the new normal, the role of Telehealth will only become more key in our day-to-day lives, transforming healthcare for clients and practitioners alike.

At Flourishing Life Psychology, we offer both online and face-to-face counselling. If you’re in need of support, please reach out to us at contact@flourishinglifepsychology.com.au or 0433 905 239.

By Erica Zhou

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