This weekend I have attended the OCTIA conference in Bristol, U.K., and have met with many other online counsellors both in person and through the live webchat facility. OCTIA – or Online Counselling and Therapy In Action – has been running for several years and brings together therapists from throughout the United Kingdom and also those practising in different places around the globe. Although many attend the physical conference room, many more log in from a variety of countries both near and far to hear experts in the online counselling field speak on a variety of subjects. This year there were over 700 online delegates registered to take part in the conference from a distance! The event has a truly international reach.
The theme of this year’s conference was Relational Depth and Emotional Connection in Online Therapy, and included talks on topics such as ‘Online therapy for those affected by disability and illness’ and ‘Building a therapeutic relationship of depth using text’, to name just two. Research was presented and personal experience discussed, with those in Bristol and those online able to debate issues with the presenters and with each other in real-time. Some practitioners attending were seasoned online therapists, whereas others are currently undergoing training or perhaps considering embarking upon additional online tuition to supplement their existing face-to-face skill set.
What struck me today was the extent to which people were able to share thoughts and opinions and engage with one another regardless of physical location. With one ‘foot’ in the conference room and the other ‘foot’ in the online discussion space, I was able to interact with those sitting next to me at the same time as those in different parts of Europe, North America and even further afield. Technology certainly has made the world a smaller place, and one thing that seems certain is that this technological revolution will only continue to influence the way we go about our daily lives and the way in which we conduct our relationships with each other.
Access For All
Counsellors often strive to ensure that the service they provide is accessible by all, making physical adjustments to the therapeutic space to allow wheelchair access for example, and rightly so, in my opinion. It can be the case, however, that no matter how accessible a counselling room is, if the journey by bus from the client’s home to the therapy room is awkward and difficult, this can be a barrier the client may find difficult to overcome. By engaging with a therapist online the client can access the support they need without having to leave their home, meaning they can have an app0intment at a time to suit them using technology to overcome the usual physical obstacles.
Stigma and Therapy
The point was also made at the conference today that stigma is an issue which prevents some from getting the help they need to move forward with things in their life. I know from my own clinical work that some clients prefer to access online therapy as they can do so in a very discreet way, through their mobile phone or tablet computer, without having to broadcast the fact that they are accessing therapeutic support. In the same way that connections across continents were made between therapists today, clients and counsellors can be linked regardless of the distance between them. Is the connection between two online participants any less ‘real’ because there may be many miles between them on the map? In my experience as an online therapist I would say not – and I think that many of my clients both past and present would share the same view.
What are your thoughts on accessing therapy from a distance? If you could schedule a session from the comfort of your own home with no need to travel to a consulting room, would that appeal to you? Research is showing that the quality of the relationship between people interacting over the internet can be on a par with that of two people sitting side by side in the same physical space. The way we connect with each other is changing, and I would venture to say that such a change has the potential to be a very positive one indeed.
~ Rob Oglesby MBACP B.A. (Hons) BSc
[Ashwood Therapy provides a discreet, confidential and professional online counselling service by encrypted video call, live instant messaging and secure email. More details, including tips on wellbeing and information on current counselling session pricing, can be found at http://www.ashwoodtherapy.com/]