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Online (Virtual) Counselling: Understanding Your Options

Dr. Joti Samra

November 6, 2019

RESILIENCY

Online (virtual) counselling services are becoming more and more popular as our lives get busier and we become more technologically connected. Virtual counselling provides a unique opportunity to people with busy schedules or other concerns that prevent them from being able to access in-office treatment.

If you are interested in virtual counselling it may be difficult to know where to start as there are already many different services available, sometimes at vastly different price points.

Types of online (virtual) counselling

So, what types of online counselling or therapy services exist, and how do you know which services are best for you?

1. Apps (standalone use)

  • An app that provides information and guidance on specific strategies or approaches that help enhance mental health, like guided meditations (e.g., Headspace or MindShift CBT).
  • Benefits/Cons: Easy, free/cheap, no commitment and self-directed. However, requires the motivation to do the self-directed work and ideally some knowledge of CBT or therapy generally.

2. Apps (community-based support/chat rooms – example: Healthful Chat)

  • Basically self-directed plus community rooms/chats to ask questions, sometimes with a facilitator being there to moderate comments.
  • Benefits/Cons: Easy, free/cheap, and provides quick access but in most cases, it is not better than having a close friend or family member to talk to. Often there is also limited vetting of content people share or recommend, so advice may not necessarily be aligned with evidence-based or best practice approaches to treatment.

3. Apps with coaching supports (example: Better help)

  • This is app-based, incorporating facilitation, often with paraprofessionals that aren’t licensed/registered.
  • Benefits/Cons: They provide on-demand support for a low cost, but the support tends to be minimal and generic and there is no continuity of care. These types of services have their place but it is important to determine the actual qualifications of those providing care. It is important that counsellors and therapists are registered or licensed with their local governing bodies, like the College of Psychologists of BC, or the BC Association of Clinical Counsellors, and that their qualifications and education are up to date. You can determine someone’s qualifications by asking them where they are registered, what their education/degrees are in, and what specialized skills or training they have obtained.

For these first three options, they are best used by those who are familiar with counselling/CBT/therapy and just need a little more support, those with mild symptoms or use these in conjunction with other therapy methods. Thinking about it in comparison to a fitness app, these can be helpful tools for tracking progress, setting goals, and discovering variations to workouts, but they are best suited for those who are already motivated by fitness and have some knowledge.

4. Online (virtual) counselling

  • This is virtually the same as in-office therapy and is conducted by licensed or registered professionals. This is the service we offer at Dr. Joti Samra, R.Psych & Associates.
  • Benefits/Cons: Therapy is conducted by a real person that you can see, there is continuity in care, and the treatment is unique and tailored to each client (rather than generic as per options 1-3). This is the recommended approach for those with more moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety or depression, or those who are struggling with ongoing workplace or personal stressors which they are having a hard time getting a handle on themselves.

What is continuity of care?

Continuity of care is the consistency and effectiveness of treatment over time. With mental health services, this includes the work a person does with their individual practitioner over time, as well as the focus on working with other members of the individuals’ health care team (if/as needed).

When services do not have this continuity, there is something that is lost in the therapeutic experience. That is not to say that these types of services do not have a place. They are effective in providing crisis management, for example supporting a person through the process of panic attacks. It is important to understand the differences between these services to determine which is most appropriate based on your goals and financial needs.

Are you ready to book your online (virtual) therapy session? If so, get it touch! We’re also happy to provide more information if you have any questions.

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