Internet Counselling is an emerging and growing aspect for providing counselling services. People of all gender have challenging issues facing them. Some find help while others do not. This article considers the benefits and pitfalls of Internet Counselling.
In developed countries, Internet counselling has come into bridge am beef up the counselling services being provided in terms of availability. It is being hugged because of the numerous advantages or benefits accruable when it is used. Some of the benefits of using Internet counselling are as follows:
- It is able to send and receive messages at anytime of the day or night.
- Another benefit of the use of Internet counselling is never having to leave messages with intermediaries
- The use of Internet in counselling has the benefit of being able to take as long as one wants to compose a mail, and having the opportunity to reflect upon one’s messages.
- Internet counselling has the benefit of automatically having records of communication to refer to later at will and with ease. The mails clients send are stored in the ‘sent box’ while those received are stored in the ‘in box’.
- There are clients who the physical presence of the counsellor could be inhibiting during counselling. This could happen with clients from African culture where the child should only be seen and not heard. The use of Internet counselling has a high tendency of reducing or removing such inhibitions; thus, the client could have his challenges addressed.
- Internet counselling like other e-counselling types as well as the conventional physical face to face counselling offers opportunities for clients to consult with a professional as a guide with feedback and support.
- Another benefit of Internet counselling lies in its convenience and time efficiency. One using Internet counselling can sit in the confines of his/her home or office computer and compose an email and send to the counsellor. It is said to be cost effective when compared with the charges of face to face counselling in private practice. In addition, one is in charge of the timing of his/her email to suit his/her everyday needs and challenges. You can write and send your email whenever you want.
- The possible challenges facing the hearing Impaired and speech Impaired are overcome by the use of Internet counselling. With Internet counselling, such disabled/challenged clients can seek and obtain counselling from their homes/offices thereby breaking down the obstacles imposed by their disability, and
- Internet counselling provides clients with privacy and anonymity through the use of email. The possible emotional discomfort experienced by some people in face to face counselling is safely distanced. Internet counselling can be suitable for people living with HIV/AIDS because some like to keep secrets away from their face to face counsellor.
ETHICAL GUIDELINES IN THE USE OF INTERNET COUNSELLING
The practice of any worthwhile profession should have ethical standards guiding it. The conventional face-to-face counselling has ethical standards. Internet counselling, an emerging aspect of counselling wherein technology is employed also has ethical guidelines.
It is important that as people get to know and develop interest in the use and practice of Internet counselling, the ethical guidelines should also be considered. This will make the use and practice of Internet counselling not to be abused.
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In this circumstance thereof, some ethical guidelines in the use of Internet counselling are highlighted below:
- In the use of Internet for counselling relationship, it is ethical to verify the identity of the Internet client. This at times could be difficult in some circumstances, it is pertinent to take steps and address the concerns of impostors such as using code words or numbers.
- Internet counsellors should determine if their client is a minor or not. A situation where the client is a minor requires the consent of the client’s parents or guardian. It could be inferred that the consent is for the Internet counsellor to go on with the counselling as well as an agreement that the attendant fee accruable would be taken care of as the minor may not have money to pay for the professional charges of the counsellor. In addition, ensure that the persons giving consent are the minor client’s parents/guardian; their identity should equally be verified. The verification could be done using “mild cross-examination” of the information (biodata and relationship with client) that has been previously supplied by both clients and parents/guardians.
- An Internet counsellor should explain to a potential client the procedures involved in Internet counselling. This could be done during the initial intake interview. This Internet counselling orientation should explain to client procedures for contacting the Internet counsellor as to when he/she is off-line and in asynchronous counselling relationship, how often email messages will be checked by the Internet counsellor. Under this ethical guideline, the client and counsellor can chat online when counsellor is online and the client logs on. On the other hand, letting the client know how often email messages will be checked will make the client to be in the known when to reply and not send a message and expect an instant reply.
- Internet counsellor should as part of the orientation explain to clients the possibility of technology failure as in power failure, failure of the browser etc. When this possibility is explained, the internet counsellor and client should discuss and agree on alternative modes of communication, for example using telephone (here they have to agree who calls and bears/takes the cost of telephoning).
- In addition, the internet counsellor should as part of the orientation process explain to client to cope with potential misunderstanding that may erupt as a result of the absence of visual cues, especially when web-cameras are not used.
- An internet counsellor should as part of the internet counselling orientation process collaborate with internet clients to identify an appropriately trained professional who can provide local assistance including crisis intervention if and when needed. Both the internet counsellor and clients should collaborate to determine the local crisis hotline telephones as well as local emergency telephone numbers.
- The internet counsellor has an obligation, when appropriate, to make clients aware of free public access points to the internet within the community for accessing internet counselling or web-based assessment, information and instructional resources.
- Another ethical guidelines in the use of Internet for counselling is that within limits of readily available technology, internet counsellors have an obligation to make their website a barrier free environment to clients with disabilities.
- An internet counsellor should be aware of certain differences and variables around the client such as the language the client is able to use, the time zones difference and cultural perspectives and try to contain with them. Internet counsellors are also aware that local conditions and events may impact the client.
The above are standards for the ethical practice of Internet counselling and it concerns Internet counselling relationship. They are ethical guides intended for all who are interested in using Internet counselling.
The traditional face-to-face counselling has been with us from traditional past to modern times. In the world today, there is a wind of change. The wind is more in the technological breakthrough. Buying and selling, banking etc, now do business electronically. Counselling has refused to be left in the backyard current development.
In view of this, thoughtful counselling practitioners have advocated, introduced and extended the use of information, communication and technology into counselling profession. This birth of e-counselling has both telecounselling and Internet counselling as components.
The use of Internet for counselling is most suitable for the adolescents and youths. They are compliant to ICT materials. A good number of them are taught general studies courses on the use of computers. This makes them amendable to accessing counselling through the Internet. Counsellor educators should introduce e-counselling course and also be trained for that purpose. This is a way forward.