Online Counselling Safety

When counselling online, it is essential to meet the privacy and quality standards that clients expect—using a quality platform that provides good digital communication standards such as a quality connection and protection from data breaches.

Counsellors also need to protect clients from electronic data breaches by using wired or secured Wi-Fi connections, ensuring a firewall and virus protection is in place. Passwords need to be complex enough to prevent attacks and vulnerabilities.

Physical protection to ensure clients are not seen or overheard. Working ethically with a client must be driven by a client’s need for online
counselling. Clients working online may not feel safe, especially in a lockdown situation where they are stuck at home, and people may overhear them.

Research into Online Counselling

A paper by McKenny, Galloghly, Porter, & Burbach (2021) found that 65% of therapists found using video technology to conduct sessions a positive experience. However, 66% of those therapists also felt that the move online negatively impacted their techniques and the therapeutic relationship.
Additional training, better online features, and greater creativity can
improve online therapy. Counsellors NZ helps counsellors specialise in online counselling.

Avatar-based therapy for clients with anxiety could be beneficial. Teooh is a platform that lets people choose an avatar and engage in that way.

Dr Albert Rizzo from the University of California’s Institute of Creative Technology helps people therapeutically use Virtual Reality (VR). According to Dr Rizzo, Virtual Reality can help people in several ways, including Exposure Therapy for PTSD, Pain Management, and ADHD. Other professionals are also discovering how VR Therapy can help clients with Generalized Anxiety Disorders.

Counsellors NZ’s vision is to make counselling more assessable and effective for clients. Incorporating additional technology like these could be our path forward towards a healthier future.

Effectiveness of Online Counselling

Counsellors NZ provides clients with self-reporting scales. These are questionnaires that clients answer about their thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. The advantages of using these are that they can be performed relatively quickly, they can be done outside of the session time, and they are free to do. They can help clients find out where they are at, and when retaken, they can reinforce a client’s progress.

Peered reviewed data is essential when using assessment tools such as this so that the client can gain a realistic perspective on themselves. Where possible, Counsellors NZ uses New Zealand based research, so assessment results are as culturally accurate as possible. One example is the Clinical Anger Scale, initially published in the New Zealand Journal of Psychology by Reynolds, Walkey & Green. It is a 30-question scale in which clients or potential clients can measure their amount of agreement or disagreement.

Self-reported assessments are designed to avoid false results such as;

Infallibility Error is when therapists avoid the possibility of their error by thinking that the client is not ready to change or some other mitigating factor. Therapists can help prevent this error by actively seeking feedback about the effectiveness of their work.

The self-reported assessments help prevent the Acquiesce Bias (where participants respond to every question similarly) by asking the same question in reverse. In the Clinical Anger Scale, we ask participants to scale how much they agree or disagree with the following reversed questions.

  1. I get mad easily
  2. I hardly ever get angry.

To help avoid the Social Desirability Bias (where participants respond in a way that makes them look good), self-reported assessments are filled in anonymously; no personal details were taken from participants doing these assessments. The wording of the questions is stated in a neutral tone.

An online questionnaire removes the interviewer effect problem, where the interviewer’s characteristics affect participant responses.

The self-reported assessments on Counsellors NZ use Likert scales (participants choose how much they agree or disagree with a statement) to create comparable standardised results. They may help participants gain awareness of maladaptive behaviours (such as anger).       

Because results are anonymous, counsellors do not know if a client has done a self-reported assessment. So, clients can bring their results into the session to talk it over if they so desire.

Doing self-reported assessments in conjunction with online counselling helps clients track their progress and ensures clients are getting what they need from their sessions.

Disinhibition Effect

When working online, we need to be aware of the disinhibition effect. It is an effect where people feel safer saying things online than they would in real life, and this could have some benefits in therapy, helping clients feel safer and more open. Counsellors must also keep this in mind and be
well-grounded, as this effect can influence both parties.

Clients have been reported to find it much easier to leave online counselling sessions; it only takes a mouse click to go. This can increase their autonomy as they take more control over when the session ends.

Online Counselling with Zoom

As far as video-based platforms go, most professionals hold Zoom in high regard. One benefit of this platform is that it does not require any of the client’s details to set up a room. The client can just be sent a link. The room can be locked after the client enters, ensuring no one else can enter the room and the session remains private.

Video platforms offer additional anonymity and counsellor availability because clients can elect to work with a counsellor anywhere in the world. Advantageous in smaller towns / rural areas where face-to-face facilities might not be available.

Tips for having a Great Session

There can be numerous technical problems and the internet connection itself, which can interrupt sessions and stop a good flow from happening. Buying good equipment, such as a camera and headset, and going with a reputable internet provider will help prevent these problems.

If clients can find themselves in a comfortable space, in their own home, where they have more control, at a more convenient time, and at a lower cost than traditional counselling, then online counselling is the future. I hope you will join us by booking your first session for free with one of our online counsellors. Click here to get started.

Once you book your first session, a link to your session will be provided. These links will also be emailed to you from Counsellors NZ.

We provide two different links: the Zoom download and browser versions. Check your email from Counsellors NZ for these links. Test both links to ensure you can get both camera and sound to work.