Get the Most out of Online Counselling

I am excited about your willingness to learn how to get the most out of your online counselling experience! I am confident that you will find this information helpful. So let’s get started… There are three topics in this tutorial to consider. It shouldn’t take long.

Topic 1: How to Express Yourself in Text

Tips for text-only communication

You can’t see me and I can’t see you in Private Conversations or Chat-counselling. So how are we going to connect with each other at a deeply personal level?

Grab an extra chair

The first thing I and some other counsellors do is to put a chair beside us. As a matter of fact, the chair that is right beside me at this very moment is for you. In my mind’s eye, I seem to be able to “see” you better when I give you a chair. You are more real to me. I see more of you and less of the text on the screen. When you write to your counsellor, you might want to try this by giving him or her a chair beside you.

Talk about your feelings

For me, this means looking inside myself as I am doing with you right now (using the chair), and giving a name to my feelings. I tell you about them as they happen, while I write. For example, right now, I’m feeling focussed and hopeful that I’m explaining this in a way that makes sense.

Use brackets

Sometimes I want to tell you how I’m feeling right in the middle of a sentence. So… [wondering how to demonstrate this], I use brackets – just like that. Here is an example of what someone might write to their counsellor: I have reread your last message several times and although I appreciate your words [can’t believe you have such faith in me] I don’t think I’m ever going to have a worthwhile relationship [very very sad]. Richard called again to say I’m an idiot [angry with myself]. He’s so mean. But, hmm, now that I think about what you said again, I think I’m actually more angry with him than with myself. [Weird. I feel pretty good just now].

Use other tricks that are helpful in text-only communication

If I want you to know that I’m pausing to think about something more deeply, I might use a few extra dots….. … and possibly even hit Enter a few times to create some blank space. If I mean something to be a bit funny, I might use a smiley 🙂 or if something is sad, I might use a sad face 🙁 (You need to tilt your head to the left to see the smiley and the sad face.) If I’m really thrilled I might even SHOUT by using all capital letters. You can use any of these tips and tricks to the extent that they are helpful.

Topic 2: Be Responsible for Your Privacy

Private Notification

You may find yourself asking: “How can I know when I receive a new message from my counsellor? Do I have to login every day?” No, you don’t. The PrivacEmail system will automatically send a message to your regular e-mail address whenever you receive a new Private Conversation message from your Counsellor.

A Private Place or Time

I can’t stress enough the importance of taking responsibility for your privacy. Please, please, please make sure you and your computer are in a private place for online counselling. Otherwise, someone may be able to look over your shoulder to read what you are reading or writing. Or, if you’re involved in video counselling, you need to be especially conscious of who is nearby or may show up in your private space. Security on the Internet is useless if people can look over your shoulder.

Topic 3: How to Handle Problems That Could Occur

Private Conversations: Normal Delays

You can expect to receive a personal reply to your first message within three business days. After your initial contact with your counsellor, he or she will schedule replies to you approximately once per week. You may, of course, send as many messages to your counsellor as you wish any time at all. But we recommend you write, but not send your messages until the day before your counsellors scheduled reply. This will allow you to read and re-read your writing before you send it. This can be incredibly helpful in itself as it will help you clarify your feelings and issues. Your counsellor will normally reply once per week as scheduled. When I send a client a message, I’m eager to hear from my client. I’m sure you’ll have similar feelings when you send a message to your counsellor. This waiting period will make your counsellor’s reply that much more important to you when you get it. On the other hand, waiting could be difficult at times. I want to speak right from my heart now: I really encourage you, right now, to pause and think about at least one other person that you can talk to about your counselling issues if you find waiting difficult. This person could be a trusted friend or family member. Make a commitment to yourself to contact that person if you need to.

Unexpected Delays

If you have waited more than three business days to receive your counsellor’s first PrivacEmail, or if you have not received your counsellor’s reply on schedule, you can assume that something is wrong with the computer equipment somewhere. I don’t want computers to get in the way! We’re trying to use them to help you! So, if they get in the way, just phone your counsellor or this agency.

Don’t Worry About Losing Your Work!

Every computer crashes once in a while. You may have had the awful experience of losing something important. You don’t have to worry about that in the PrivacEmail system. Everything you write is autosaved all the time in the background.

Misunderstandings

It is possible that you may feel that your counsellor does not fully understand what you have tried to convey in your message or chat. Feel free to call your counsellor at the number he or she gives you to clarify.  Likewise, if your counsellor has a hunch that you are misunderstanding him/her, he/she may discretely telephone you.

Strong Emotional Reactions

Sometimes people who are in face-to-face counselling feel things more deeply than they expect. Your emotions might surprise you, or (rarely) become overwhelming while you are writing or reading your messages or chatting. I urge you to develop a plan to handle this in case it happens, especially while writing in Private Conversations because there is a delay before your counsellor will read it. I have a few suggestions that you may find helpful. Most of all, I invite you to be aware that you are in control. Let me explain what I mean: 1. Choose a good time to read your counsellor’s messages, not necessarily as soon as you get them.

  • Before you begin reading, check your own emotional state. Are you ready to experience yourself, your emotions, and your issues in an intensive way?
  • Next, check your circumstances. Do you have privacy? Do you have enough time to read and think about what your counsellor says? Do you plan to respond immediately, or read your counsellor’s message a few times before responding?

2. Continue to pay attention to how you are feeling, and read or write as much as you want or can handle.

  • Go at the pace that you can handle. Take a break if you want to. You can stop reading if it becomes difficult, so that you can take care of whatever you are experiencing.
  • Don’t assume that you have to read or reply to the entire Private Conversation message your counsellor has given you. You can do it in several sittings.
  • Talk to someone about any strong emotions you experience or just give yourself time to prepare yourself before going back to it.

3. Recognize that you need to make your own decisions about what is and is not useful. Don’t assume that your counsellor is necessarily right. Your counsellor will make judgements about your needs and the best way to address them. It’s helpful if you tell your counsellor if you don’t accept something he or she has said. 4. Plan in advance what you will do if you need emotional support when you read or write in Private Conversations.

  • I suggest that you look up the telephone number for the Crisis Line closest to you, and decide ahead of time that you will call them for emotional support if you need it. Crisis Lines are normally listed on the inside of the front cover of your telephone book.

Please let your counsellor know if you have strong emotional reactions. Please describe fully what happened. If you find that Private Conversations or Chatcounselling seems to be inappropriate for you, please tell your counsellor how you feel. Your counsellor can then help you decide whether another modality of counselling may be more appropriate.

Crisis

Emergencies, such as someone considering suicide or homicide, need immediate attention. I want to make sure you realize that, if any kind of emergency is happening where you are located, we cannot help you online. It just doesn’t make sense to send your counsellor a Private Conversation message, hoping that we will be able to help you at that moment. This agency’s counsellors are expected to check for incoming messages only once per day (Monday through Friday, excluding local statutory holidays). I, and our other counsellors, can definitely help you with what happens after an emergency.  But we cannot help you online while the emergency is happening if you are using Private Conversations. Because of this, we have prepared a Resource page especially to help people know how to get help in a crisis. Please familiarize yourself with this important resource.