It can be. Here’s what you need to know:
Telecounseling, using the telephone to conduct legitimate counseling sessions with licensed therapists, has been occurring for close to 50 years. Telemedicine is what they call it when doctors and other healthcare providers provide services via telephone and Internet video connection. Now, it is a common practice, a clinical mode that is studied and taught to doctors and therapists, and in many cases, covered by health insurance.
As an older Licensed Mental Health Counselor, a boomer, I have been slow to accept the rapid advance of our culture into the digital age. I was even slow to accept the idea of distance counseling via telephone, without the eyeball-to-eyeball and close-up intimacy of live personal human contact. But circumstances forced the issue, with established clients sometimes homebound, and more and more people living an hour or more away who wanted to work with me. I found that counseling over the phone worked quite well, and actually had some distinct advantages over in-person sessions. No travel time, for one thing. It’s also convenient with less stress for busy people and those uncomfortable with going to a “shrink’s” office.
Today, telecounseling is routine and accepted, and the issues that were raised as potential problems, like privacy, confidentiality, compliance with the HIPPA laws, protection of personal health information and your most guarded secrets, have been answered with services that use technology and accreditation to insure those things. Counseling via phone or video calling, if done appropriately, can be as safe and effective in many cases as in-person counseling.
The same rules apply as with any healthcare services you seek. You need to make sure you are dealing with a licensed health professional in your state. You need to check what the counselor presents in their website or other public information to see if they might be a good fit. You need to be willing to invest in at least one session to see if the fit feels right. Also, you need to be prepared to try a different counselor if your first choice doesn’t feel right.
When COVID-19 hit early this year, telecounseling was a godsend. So many people needed help to cope, and distance counseling was perfect to meet the needs for social distancing and stay-at-home protocols.
Right at that time, I noticed a lot of advertising on NPR by BetterHelp, an Internet company that promised connection with licensed counselors through your computer, tablet or smartphone. I did a little checking and found they offered access to a professional counselor 24/7 via text (the counselor would respond within 24 hours if not sooner), for $40 per week and up, depending on how much service you wanted, and you could also arrange phone or video sessions.
I balked at the idea of counseling via text or chatting. I had a lot of experience as a user of social media, and I’m certain that real counseling or therapy cannot occur with texting or chatting. However, I have also served as a mental health expert in media where “ask the expert” questions were invited, and I would provide information that was very helpful to people. It was kind of like a “Dear Abby” column and it turned out to be very helpful to the people who wrote in. In fact, lots of people get lots of help with personal problems with therapeutic ideas and information they glean from books and other quality sources. That could not be called counseling, but it is in fact referred to as “bibliotherapy” when a counselor gives you a book to read. So, while it’s not counseling, communicating with a professional counselor with questions, issues and problems can be quite helpful. As one of the “Ask the Expert” experts when answering a message from those writing in about a problem, I’d sometimes suggest, after answering their question, that they connect with a professional for real counseling if it seemed like it was what they needed. As it turns out, I believe that’s what happens when you connect with a counselor at BetterHelp.
While I was spurred to write this article by BetterHelp’s community outreach, I don’t want to give the impression that I am endorsing them. I don’t know anymore about them than you’d know by reading what they say at their website. If you are interested in looking into online counseling, I’d suggest you do what I did and Google it. You’ll get pages of things to look at and there are some good articles to read from good sources like Psychology Today and The New York Times.
One thing I’ll heartily endorse is the experience of working with a counselor. I think it’s something everyone should do. Of course, it’s my life’s work, so you’d expect that I believe in the value of it. And I think it has value even if you don’t have a terribly troubling problem, like my specialty, infuriatingly stubborn weight control. In fact, talking to anyone rather than keeping everything inside is usually helpful. Sometimes though, if the person is not a professional, they can do more harm than good. It’s better to talk with someone who knows the right things to say and how to avoid making things worse.
Talk to a counselor, it’ll do you good.