Dr Lizbé Schoeman
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Online counselling is appealing to clients, who often view it as a convenient, economical and an accessible alternative to traditional face-to-face counselling. Online counselling and conventional face-to-face counselling may have similar benefits, but the one can't substitute the other in every case. Online
counselling does pose some unique challenges and also some unique possibilities
for both clients and psychologists.
Online counselling can not always be ethically regulated in every part of the world and therefore it is as important to check the credentials of an online counsellor as one you would see face-to-face, if not more so. The psychologist should be licensed to practice in his or her own country/state.
A license doesn’t guarantee competence and experience, but it does mean that the counsellor has been professionally educated and trained.
Where to now?
Distance communication between a therapist and client has come a long way. Sigmund Freud used to write extensive letters to communicate with his clients. The internet has opened up new avenues for mental health treatment and it is a fast growing profession. Online therapy may be viewed with skepticism by a number of mental health professionals, but it has received support from many clients/patients who have utilized online mental health treatment. It was documented in the World Journal of Psychiatry, that patients reported "high levels of satisfaction" after receiving mental health treatment through video conferencing.
Online counselling, also known as Online therapy, E-therapy, E-counselling, Telehealth, Teletherapy, Telepsychology, Distance therapy, Virtual reality therapy, or Cyber-counselling, is a relatively new development in mental health in which a trained professional provides psychological counselling via the internet. This can occur through email, video conferencing, online chatting, messaging or internet phone. Skype, which can be accessed via a computer, laptop, tablet or cellphone and Google's video chat programme are both accessible to utilize for online counselling.
Online services in mental health are here to stay and plays an important role in the access to and education of mental health. It is indicated that online counselling will continue to grow and proliferate with the enormous growth of the Web in general, the advancement of technology and the steady increase in numbers of people who are gaining access to the Web. Research studies suggest that online counselling can have effective and positive outcomes on a variety of clinical conditions, especially when combined with Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT).
Although psychologists can practice online therapy with clients in their own state, the Health Professions Council of South Africa is not clear with regard to that yet. According to the USA's Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards, the provision of psychological services via the internet is an evolving practice and most jurisdictions don't have clearly defined standards or rules regarding such practice yet (http://www.asppb.net/?page=PsychInternet).
The internet surpasses state and international borders and therefore there are many legal and regulatory concerns. Online therapists should adhere to the licensing requirements, laws and treatment guidelines specified by their country. As in many parts of the world, only individuals who have received specific training and have passed the required licensing process, are legally allowed to call themselves Psychologists in South Africa. Many states do not allow out-of-state psychologists to provide services. In such cases, dual licensing or multi-jurisdictional licensure will be required.