How does online counselling work?

Estimated reading time: 3 mins

COVID-19 has changed human interaction, possibly forever. Many aspects of our daily lives and how we engage with other people has shifted to online communication tools over the internet. Zoom, Teams, WebEx are just a few examples of the new tools we now use (alongside the familiar email, instant messaging/chat and Skype-calling), quite possibly for the first time, to talk to friends, family, co-workers and medical professionals. Not surprising then, many people have turned to online counselling to help them through the tough times.


Enabled by technology, online counselling can be used to address a broad number of personal issues and to help you improve the quality of your life. What you need help with doesn’t have to fit a neat bracket. Any issue that is interfering with your happiness or prevents you from achieving your goals is possibly suited to online counselling. More specifically, online counselling can help you deal with your stress, anxiety, relationships, parenting, depression, addictions, eating, sleeping, trauma, anger, family conflicts, LGBT matters, grief, religion, self esteem and more.

However, not all issues are well suited to online counselling. Because it is technology-enabled and doesn’t involve direct face-to-face communication, online counselling is not suited if any of the following is true:

  • You have thoughts of hurting yourself or others
  • You are a minor or you are under the care of a legal guardian
  • You are in an urgent crisis or an emergency situation
  • You have been diagnosed with a severe mental illness, or if you have been advised to be in psychological supervision or psychiatric care
  • You were required to undergo therapy or counseling either by a court order or by any other authority
  • You do not have a device that can connect to the Internet or you do not have a reliable Internet connection

Practically, how does online counselling work?

To find out how online counselling works, I got in touch with the folks at BetterHelp, which is the largest online counselling platform in the world. After you sign up with your counselling service, they will match you to an available counsellor who will fit with your needs, preferences, and the kind of issues you are facing. Online means that the range of licensed and credentialed counsellors to match from is very large. This is important, because different counsellors have different styles and focuses, so just like online dating it’s vital to be matched with the right person who can achieve the best results with you. Matching can take a few days because the best match counsellor won’t necessarily be immediately available.

Once matched, the counselling process begins. You will begin sharing information about your case, at your pace. Communication between you and your counsellor will use the most suitable tool, including (but not necessarily restricted to):

  • Email
  • Online messaging/chat
  • Telephone/skype/VOIP
  • Video conferencing

You can use these different ways at different times – whichever is most convenient and conducive to providing the support you require. It may take you a little while, and perhaps some experimentation, to discover what works for you – so don’t be afraid of trying the different methods.

Other practicalities of online counselling


Because you’re not face-to-face with your counsellor, anonymity is assured. Everything you share with your counsellor is protected by strict federal and state laws. You shouldn’t be required to give your full name. You may be asked for emergency contact information.


All information shared between you and your counsellor is private and will be held in the highest regard when it comes to protecting your privacy. Information will be held only when required and for the duration of the service. At any time, you can ask for information and messages to be permanently deleted.


You should note that, at the time of writing, your online counsellor won’t be able to make any official diagnosis, prescribe medication to you, nor fulfil a court order.

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