Communication technology offers new options in all aspects of relationships. Whether meeting someone new or in relationship counseling and divorce, there are social networks and mobile applications satisfying many of our interpersonal needs. What you may not find today may be available tomorrow. The only limits are the imaginations of interpersonal problem solvers. While there may be benefits to online therapy, we must wonder how much we need human interaction and intervention. A recent advertisement appearing on a popular website offered online marriage counseling and at first glance it looks like a good idea.

When you search the Internet for “online marriage counseling” the search results include a variety of online couples counseling websites. Many of the websites are managed by licensed mental health professionals. They often refer to coaching and the ease of working with patients all over, without geographic limitations.

Identifying features and benefits of online counseling

One of the online counseling resources, Talkspace, identifies a benefit of online counseling in the opportunity for a patient to communicate online with the therapist, multiple times a day or whenever it is convenient. This makes it easier for a person needing to talk to the therapist without needing to wait until a scheduled appointment. While every situation may be unique, one must wonder how often the ease of access between patient and therapist contributes to a therapist being inundated. Setting boundaries and controlling expectations may be a challenge in online therapy.

It is also suggested that online and digital therapy options allow a patient to control the medium. People may want to text, talk over the phone, send instant messages or use a video chat option. There are many convenience options.

Anonymity is another feature promoted by some online counseling providers. People with social anxiety may appreciate the opportunity to talk to a therapist about their marriage while keeping their identity hidden. Anonymity might allow some people to be more open and tell the therapist more than they would in a face to face setting.

What limitations of online communications make traditional counseling preferable?

Think of social networks and online chatting. On sites like Facebook some people can appear differently to others as they would in an in-person conversation.

Are you likely to be more honest with a person sitting next to you in a room or someone on your computer? How does the immediate physical presence of a mental health professional affect the experience of marriage counseling and coaching? Maybe it depends on the individual and for some people, online counseling may work great, while others need the in-person experience.

Considering online counseling options, one could be sidetracked by questioning the interpersonal communication psychology. A best bet may be a mixed approach. If an individual or couple seeking marriage counseling meets with and establishes trust with a local counselor first, then using online communication technology, some follow up or maintenance communication may be helpful to reinforcing ideas and thoughts shared in a counseling session. This way people receive all the benefits of online communication technology without the burden of not being able to make the necessary interpersonal connection with the trusted mental health professional.

Thoughts for counselors considering offering online services

What ethics rules apply to online patient services? Does your arrangement with payment providers allow remote access delivery of services? Does the model for online services satisfy the requirements of local, state and federal laws such as HIPPA?

Once practice questions are satisfied, the development of an online mental health service component may be as easy as letting your patients know of the option and seeing how it works. Communicating openly with patients and exchanging feedback helps all involved determine how the service model is working.

At the end of the day everyone is unique and will respond differently to various aspects of counseling, coaching and mental health services. Technology developers are busy and innovative. There are new communication platforms introduced frequently and there is a seemingly endless drive to continue improving on technology and the user experience.

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About us: The Texas Chapter of AFCC is an interdisciplinary association of family law judges, attorneys, mediators, evaluators, court administrators, financial planners, and mental health professionals, working in collaboration to further ideas and issues to help resolve family conflict and protect the interests of families and children.

When needing to change the aspects and effects of the adversarial family litigation system by challenging convention and providing opportunities for interdisciplinary communications and training, Texan professionals who work in family law turn to the Texas Chapter of the Association of Family and Conciliatory Courts for the information and resources necessary to change the lives of their clients and colleagues for better. Men, women and children who embrace alternative dispute resolution and want to take their divorce and family law matters in a different direction are encouraged to seek out Texas Chapter AFCC professionals to learn more.

To make contact with a Texas Chapter AFCC professional, please contact communications coordinator, Nick Augustine at (940) 498-2863 or by using the Contact Us page on the Texas Chapter AFCC website. Do not forget to keep up with news and events by engaging with the Texas Chapter social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter.

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