Debatethe Merits of Web-Based Counseling
Web-basedcounseling is the process of providing mental health counselingservices via online communication channels such as live chats,videos, and emails among others. Counseling has become one of theservices that can be delivered online following the development ofweb 2.0 platforms. Just like the traditional counseling process,web-based counseling can range from few interactions to numerousinteractions depending on clients’ issues and the progress theymake during the sessions. Given that it is a new concept, it hasgenerated much debate regarding its effectiveness with reference tothe traditional counseling process. Therefore, this paper seeks tobalance this discussion by exploring the pros and cons of onlinecounseling. While pursuing this objective, the paper will focus onspecific issues including honesty, competence, confidentiality, dutyto warn and protect, and the development of a therapeuticrelationship between a client and counselor.
Web-basedcounseling is beneficial in the sense that it is convenient to peoplewho cannot find time to visit counseling centers in person (Young,2005). However, the fact that people do not have to participate inface-to-face counseling sessions can compromise counseling processesbecause clients can successfully hide information from theircounselors. The entire counseling process, including sitting posture,was designed to draw clients into sessions and make them open upabout the issues affecting them. Through face-to-face sessions,counselors can be able to pick non-verbal reactions from clients andreact to them effectively, thus provoking clients to revealinformation which would have been hidden. Web-based counseling deniescounselors the opportunity to observe and respond to non-verbal cuesbecause counselors have no way of observing clients from the otherend of a communication channel, especially if they are usingnon-video platforms to interact.
Accordingto American Psychological Association, psychologists should notprovide mental health services in cases where they do not haverelevant education and training. Instead, they should refer them toother psychologists who are better suited to handle such cases. Theyshould also take necessary steps towards referring clients withemerging issues which have not previously been understood anddefined. Web-based counseling is likely to expose counselors tounfamiliar cases which they cannot deal with effectively. At the sametime, when counselors are not in a position of gathering adequateinformation regarding their clients’ statuses, there is anincreased risk of misdiagnosis and the wrong assumption that they canhandle cases which are beyond their expertise (Young, 2005).Consequently, counselors can harm clients by providing services whichare not essential to redressing their cases.
Theinability of counselors to engage their clients on a face to facebasis during web-based counseling also deny them the opportunity todevelop therapeutic relationships with them. To create therapeuticrelationships, counselors need to establish a genuine connection withclients, provide unconditional positive regard, project empathy, andcommunicate effectively with clients. Counselors cannot connect withclients genuinely through online communication platforms compared toface to face counseling sessions. Apparently, counselors and clientsobserve one another in counseling sessions. Through suchobservations, clients can determine whether counselors are genuine ornot. They are also able to identify whether counselors empathize withtheir situations genuinely or not. In cases where they do notunderstand their counselors, clients tend to withdraw from counselingsessions because they do not feel the connection between them andcounselors (Young, 2005). At the same time, web-based counselingcompromises counselors’ obligations to protect clients fromself-harm. Following a self-awareness process, patients tend to beemotional, and may harm themselves when they are overwhelmed by suchemotions. Counselors cannot assess their emotional statuses correctlyand rationalize their suicidal thoughts in time given that they areusually far from clients. They are also unable to act physicallytowards preventing clients from harming themselves.
Onthe same note, the American Psychological Association states thatcounselors have the obligation of taking necessary precaution toensure that clients’ pieces of information are safe fromunauthorized intrusion. They also have the obligation ofunderstanding how the law regulates the extent to which informationmay be kept. They can only share clients’ information if they havean undoubted reason that clients may harm themselves or others in anyway. Protecting clients’ information facilitates the developmentof trust between clients and counselors. Trust can easily be brokenif information is leaked to the public without clients’ consent.Moreover, leaking clients’ information to the public can exposethem to public stigmatization and discrimination, thus causing mentalhealth damage to them. The confidentiality risks arise from the factthat web-based systems are prone to hacking, thus making it easy forother people to gain access to clients’ information stored online.
Theycan also tap into the communication channels between clients andcounselors and listen to their discussions, thus gatheringinformation which should have remained confidential. Clients andcounselors are likely to develop conflicts following the unauthorizedaccess to information, thus portraying counseling profession asincompetent. Despite the fact that some sites update their securityprotocols regularly, it has emerged severally that new kind ofhacking tools are developed from time to time as people continue tounderstand information communication and systems deeply. It impliesthat online system hacking will still continue to occur in thefuture. As a result, the confidentiality of clients` information willcontinue to be compromised as long as people continue to useweb-based counseling.
Thispaper has explored and established that web-based counselingprocesses are ineffective when it comes to assessing the honesty ofclients. Counselors are likely to be misled because they have no wayof determining if clients are telling the truth. Also, counselorshave no way of establishing therapeutic relationships with theirclients because they cannot have a meaningful and genuine connectionwith one another. As a result, online counseling facilitatesincompetence because counselors are likely to misdiagnose theirclients. Online counseling also exposes clients to harm relating tobreach of confidentiality following hacking activities.
Young,K. S. (2005). An empirical examination of client attitudes towardsonline counseling. CyberPsychology& Behavior,8(2),172-177.