Adventures in Cybercounselling

Submitted by Sue Mistretta, M.A. Online Counsellor

I live in the West Kootenay’s -a beautiful and rural area in BC, Canada.   We moved here from the suburbs of Philadelphia, PA in 2000. One of the benefits of living here include reduced development and population; however, this also creates a challenge in making a living as a counsellor in private practice.

When I first discovered the online training courses for Cybercounselling (offered through the University of Toronto), I felt a bit turned off to the idea since I had only experienced face to face counselling and alot of what I do involves processes involving expressive arts therapy. I am not a techy kind of person- I do have a laptop mainly for e-mailing, research, and you-tubing and I just got my first cell phone just 3 months ago!

In spite of my initial resistance, I decided to pursue the training. I thought it to be a viable option -to build my practice and not be limited by my demographics. I thought I’d try something new on the growing edge of counselling and technology. WHY NOT?

The courses were informative and fun-it was a virtual classroom with students from as far as Australia . Even though we engaged in role playing as clients and counsellors (using made-up issues), I felt that I wanted to experience what it was like to actually be a real client. How could I effectively work with clients in this format without having first hand experience of what it is like? I researched and found an on-line counsellor who completed the same training program. I followed the instructions on her site and began the process using a present issue in my life.

One thing I discovered was that I liked the anonymity, I liked the process of writing at my own pace and reflecting, editing, writing etc. I have always valued the therapeutic value of journaling and creative writing. So far- so good.  I pushed “send” and curiously awaited a response. Two or three days later, I got notification that there was a response in my “secure” privacemail inbox.

Now, even though I was instructed to find adequate time and a private place to go to my inbox and read her response, I was just so curious that I opened it when I only had about 10 minutes before I had a previous engagement. Not a good idea! Since I chose to explore a pretty intense issue, I was equally met with a pretty intense emotional release when I read her comments and evocative questions. I actually was very surprised. An interesting and thought provoking dialog began between myself and the cybercounsellor. It had immediate healing effects in my life. I was pleasantly surprised!

I really thought that cybercounselling might be somehow inferior to face to face (in-person) counselling but I found that it is not. It is a different experience but equally effective. There are unique advantages of both styles. Variables to consider for the effectiveness of counselling in any style include (1) the motivation and commitment of the client to be honest and to be willing to be responsible for their “stuff” and (2) an experienced counsellor with honed listening skills and experience to hold a safe, sincere- yet growth-inducing crucible to work within, and finally (3) good rapport and a resonance between client and counsellor.

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