Email Counselling (part 1) - What is Email Counselling?
Updated: Apr 28, 2020
Email Counselling - unlike face-to-face, video or phone sessions - is all text based. Counsellors and clients never see each other’s faces or hear each others voices.
It can be likened to letter writing in that the counsellor and client exchange password protected confidential therapeutic emails. Often a word limit or amount of time spent on each email is agreed together with an agreement to when the therapist will read and respond.
Following Suler’s “24-hour rule” it is common for therapists to agree to respond 2 or 3 days after they have received their clients email as it gives time for them to write and reflect and then wait 24hours before sending (Suler, 1998). This time delay means that the counsellor and client do not communicate in real time. This is known as asynchronous counselling making email counselling unique from all other types of therapy.
Looking at the history, email counselling is much older than video call counselling. Jones and Stokes (2009) point out that therapeutic writing is in fact not new as Freud is known to have corresponded by letter with clients before email even existed. Also since the mid 90s the Samaritans have offered email support.
So given this long history it is not surprising that counsellors began to offer this type of therapy as the popularity and convenience of using email for personal and work correspondence has grown over the last 20-30 years.
When I trained as an online counsellor with the Academy for Online Counselling and Psychotherapy I was surprised to learn from my peers in my class that email counselling was - for most people - the least favourite online medium. This seems to mirror the feelings from clients too. I stood out as loving email counselling. Read more about why I love Online Counselling here.
Why are counsellors reluctant to offer this way of working? Possibly because it can be hard. There is lots to think about around boundaries, misunderstandings and disinhibition.
I often have people enquiring about starting online counselling who don’t specify how they want to meet almost as if video call is the default. Why is this? My guess is because video call counselling is most similar to traditional face-to-face sessions in that the client and counsellors can see and hear each other.
It is a shame that - in my experience - many clients and counsellors alike feel reluctant to try email counselling. Over time I have noticed how many clients end up ‘falling into’ email counselling when they give it a go if they are not able to make their usual session time as we do not need to meet in ‘real time’.
I have seen many clients try email counselling after long periods of meeting by video call and it is amazing to see how freed up they are as they feel less embarrassed and able to say what they really want to say. If you think about it makes sense as in everyday life people often find it easier to text/email a friend if they need to say something that is difficult to say out loud.
I will write more about how this shame is lifted when I write about disinhibition in online counselling in my next blog.
This blog is part of a 4-part series on email counselling. Receive notifications for my next blogs by subscribing here.
This is part 1 of my 4 part series on Email counselling.
Read part 2 "What is the Disinhibition Effect?"
Read Part 3 "Boundaries in Email Counselling"
Read Part 4 "Misunderstandings in Email Counselling"
For more info on the email counselling service I offer click here.
Jones, G., & Stokes, A. (2009) Online Counselling: A Handbook for Practitioners. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan.
Suler, J. (1998) The Psychology of Cyberspace: Email communication and relationships, http://www.rider.edu/~suler/psycyber/emailrel.html [last accessed 12 August 2018]