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What is the disinhibition effect?

Are you a counsellor or trainee?

If so, this blog is for you.

As a fellow counsellor, I thought I would take some time to reflect on online counselling and disinhibition.

What does disinhibition even mean?

The Oxford Learner's Dictionary definition of 'disinhibition' is:

'the state of no longer feeling shy so that you can relax and show your feelings'

Wow. Wouldn't that be amazing if our clients could relax and feel less shy about exploring their true feelings? The reality, though, which I'm sure you will have observed, is that it is very common for clients to feel very anxious and shy about being so open in counselling.

This is because they are inhibited.

Many of our clients feel self-conscious and overwhelmed when they first meet us. Think back to the first time you ever saw a counsellor and tell me you weren’t a little scared. The reason it can feel scary is because we are entering a professional space and feel very vulnerable when talking to a complete stranger.

In person counselling

This inhibition is so much stronger when meeting clients in person as we are expecting them to travel to, and enter, our therapy room. Even though we don’t want there to be a power dynamic it is much harder for the client to relax in this space.

Video call counselling

Moving to video call counselling – which I know many of you have done since the pandemic started – you probably noticed how much more open your clients were able to be. This is because they felt disinhibition due to meeting you from their own computer, from the comfort of their own home.

Do you notice how the clients you meet online these days are more likely to feel able to fidget and have a cup of tea? Perhaps it doesn’t feel so rule driven for them. Not that boundaries are not important in online counselling – they are – but our clients tend to feel more able to relax in the space quicker.

Email counselling

What happens when we change the way we meet our clients to email sessions?

Learn more about email counselling with my free guide here.

With email counselling the disinhibition deepens further.


Because we can’t see or hear our clients and they can’t see or hear us they tend to feel safer and more able to relax and be open.

There is also the time delay in email counselling which can help take the heat off a difficult topic as they don’t have to sit there in the moment and wait for your response whilst filled with embarrassment.

In my experience as an email counsellor, I meet many clients who are able to talk about what they really want to talk about and not spend weeks and months beating around the bush. Our clients want help and want to be able to trust us with their deepest secrets and email counselling helps them do this.

Many people are more comfortable exploring topics – such as those relating to sex, for example – that might feel too embarrassing to discuss out loud.

Clients with, say, questions around their gender, or distress around their weight, can feel freer to explore these topics safe in the knowledge that you cannot see them. Exposing the way they look might feel distressing as they may worry that their appearance might risk provoking an unwelcome judgement from you.

Email counselling is also great for clients who have never had counselling before. They may be very anxious to meet their counsellor, yet might not feel ready to talk out loud.

Writing their feelings down might feel easier.

In my experience many clients choose to have all their sessions by email. Perhaps this is because they find it easier for their schedule, or perhaps because they feel it less uncomfortable, especially if they want to work on an issue where they feel shame/embarrassment.

Either way, learning about disinhibition has been pivotal for me as I reflect on my counselling work online.

Email counselling helps me to offer a more accessible service where clients can explore the topics they really need to.

Do you want a more diverse and accessible way to meet your clients?

Learn more with my FREE guide

What is Email Counselling?

and why I love it


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