E-Counseling is something I've personally never used. I have had face to face counseling before as an essential part of my psychological role in the prison service, and thoroughly enjoyed it, but the idea of e-counseling I find really hard to get my psychological head around. My personal opinion on the concept was that it's quite dangerous on a safeguarding level; how can someone know that you are OK and safe from the other side of a screen? Counseling and therapy work should always monitor your safety, and ensure that you are aren't a danger to yourself or someone else. So I did quite a bit of digging and research on this area, and here is what I found.
E-counseling has been researched and tested quite a bit since it started being introduced in 2012, and two studies in 2013, among others, found that in most cases it was just as effective as face to face therapy, and in other cases was actually better. It's said that e-counseling provides more options to people who cannot afford their own private counselor, and also is more accessible to those who don't quite feel ready to meet someone new in person. You also have access to counselors all over the world, rather than those in your immediate area.
All of the e-counseling sites I looked at guaranteed fully trained and licensed counselors, or specifically trained 'listeners' and therapists. I browsed some of the profiles of the counselors on some of these websites, and also looked at the policy of all of them, in which every single site ensures that their therapists are fully vetted and checked before being added. This goes some way to easing my discomfort with the idea, but I'm still questioning the feasibility of fully monitoring every counselor who provides services.
I've researched which sites and apps are available, and here is a summary of the best I found.
www.betterhelp.com- Claims to be the largest provider of e-counseling, and offers a 7 day free trial and then a weekly fee of around $35 (around £25) for unlimited support. Betterhelp is an American site, but this could be seen as part of the beauty of e-counseling, in that you can access support from all over the world. They have an extensive list of over 800 counselors, and offer chat, text, video and telephone counseling. I read some very mixed reviews about this site, some claiming to have been 'ripped off' financially when they did not realise they needed to cancel their ongoing subscription, and others saying the counseling was of poor quality. I suppose it depends which counselor you are allocated to, but this is something to be wary of with all e-counseling, as well as face to face services. If you aren't happy, then change counselors.
Samaritans-Samaritans in the UK is a fantastic charity that does some seriously amazing work supporting people confidentially on the phone, and now through email. Samaritans does not claim to have fully licensed trained counselors, but their training programme for their listeners is outstanding, and their service is completely free. You won't get 'therapy' from Samaritans, but you will get someone who listens to you, and responds, and if you don't feel like talking, emailing them could be a great alternative. They aim to have a response to you in 12 hours (which isn't great if you need some help pronto), but for some this could be a great way of entering the world of support in a comfortable way.
Relate- Relate is a UK based charity that offers counseling linked to relationship issues, and family problems. They have offered face to face counseling for decades, but are now offering free 'live chat' counseling online, as well as email counseling, webcam and telephone sessions. You will have to pay for everything except the free live chat counseling, with an email response costing £30 (they say its the quivalent to an hour of face to face work), and £55 an hour for webcam and telephone support. This is great if you can't get to a centre, but is the same price as a face to face session, so not necessarily the greatest use of your money. Give the free live chat a go though!
www.plusguidance.com- An e-counseling website based in the UK, claiming to be the 'highest quality' e-counseling available. They offer video calls, voice calls and and instant message counseling, but their prices don't seem clear cut and I don't like that. They say their prices range from £10-£60 a session, depending on what the therapist charges and what kind of therapy you are having. It would be better to have a flat rate like the other websites on offer, to make the financial side something you don't need to worry about. They do also offer a free trial to see if you like it.
www.getconnected.org.uk- Get Connected offer free telephone, email or webchat counselling for people under 25. They state on the site that an initial consultation lasts about 40 minutes, and then following sessions will last around 20 minutes. They offer support with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, addiction and many other areas. A fantastic resource for under 25s, and worth telling others about.
www.7cups.com- American based online listener service and app, offering free online webchat with trained listeners, free group support sessions and community forums. They also offer therapists and counselors, but I couldn't find a price for this and I doubt it's free. It seems more stylish, trendy and generally well-being orientated than other sites, and that appeals to me. They state that they provide thorough training and support to their 'active listeners', and it could be a good opportunity for some to volunteer and train themselves up to provide listening support to others. You can download the app to any device, or use their website.
www.talkspace.com- Another American site, offering text and email counseling at a flat rate of $25 (around £17) a week for unlimited text and email support. Could be a great option for a busy schedule, and has been given some good reviews online. They also offer a free trial.
www.haveigotaproblem.com- A UK based site run the TASHA foundation that offers free online chat counseling around mental health and addiction. Tons of interesting resources and videos on their website, as well as the free chat counseling. They run the service from 10am-10pm and are launching video counseling soon.
So what do I think now? Having spent a long time looking into the option of e-counseling, and checking out the credentials, my opinion has certainly changed. I think there is definitely a place for this kind of support, and if you need a boost with a problem, or struggle with the idea of actually speaking face to face, they could be a great, affordable and approachable option. Coping with deep rooted issues however, I feel still warrants face to face support, where you are able to switch off from your life for a while, sit in a chair, and talk with someone in a natural environment. There's a lot to be said for leaving technology for a bit!
If you've had experience of e-counseling, we'd love to hear from you, or if you have any comments or feedback leave us a comment.