Increased frequency of counselor-consumer contact can improve rehabilitation outcomes (Ipsen & Goe, 2016). If managed effectively, distance communication methods like email, texting, instant messaging, and video conferencing can increase opportunities for contact. Not all communication channels are created equal, however, and not everyone is equally suited to use them effectively. Below, we suggest some things for counselors or other providers to consider about themselves and their consumers that might impact effective distance technology communication.
Even if you are resistant to technology, you probably use email to communicate with coworkers. If managed correctly, email and texting can be great counseling tools. Some benefits of using asynchronous communication methods (or methods where there is a time lag between sending and receiving a response) with consumers include:
- Eliminating phone tag— asynchronous communication can reduce the amount of time counselors spend trying to reach consumers by eliminating back and forth messages (Griffiths et al. 2006).
- Flexibility – Asynchronous communication allows consumers to address issues as they arise.
- Reduce travel time and cost—Asynchronous communication can reduce the need to travel to rural locations. However, not all rural locations have consistent internet and cellphone coverage so this may not be a possibility for all consumers.
Unfortunately, there are also some drawbacks to asynchronous communication. For example, it introduces confidentiality concerns and the potential for an inbox flooded with inappropriate jokes from consumers. There are ways to mitigate these types of risks, but if you are resistant to technology, it may be best to avoid communicating with you consumers via online methods.
If you are interested, you can learn more about creating an effective email relationship with a consumers in structuring an email relationship.
Consumers have varying levels of access to the internet and cellphone service, but access is increasing all the time.
In addition, not all consumers are equally well suited to use distance technology. Consider the consumers’ disability and skill set. Does the consumer have trouble reading and writing? Does the consumer have trouble typing or using text to speech software? Is the consumer inexperienced with computer applications? Use your best judgement when engaging a consumer using these technologies and do not be afraid to terminate these communication channels if it isn’t working.
When done effectively, distance technology can offer several benefits for the consumer including:
- Extended Reach – Email can reach individuals who are at a distance from established services or unable to travel. This includes people who live in rural areas and individuals who are place-bound due to transportation, accessibility, or disability issues (Abbott, Klein & Ceichomski, 2008; Chester & Glass, 2006; Gore & Leuwerke, 2008; Mulhauser, 2011; Shaw & Shaw, 2006)
- Increased Services – Email and the Internet can increase consumer choice about providers and improve access to a broader range of services (Mullhauser, 2011; Zelvin & Speyer, 2004).
- Consumer Self-Management – Counseling through email allows the consumer more autonomy in the counseling process. Regular appointments are not required, consumers can set their own pace, and they can access services outside of traditional counseling hours. This allows the consumer to immediately engage in the counseling process, capitalizing on enthusiasm, and hopefully improving outcomes (Chester & Glass, 2006; Mullhauser, 2011).
- Access to Online Resources and Services – Working online may provide additional resources to consumers, such as informational websites, support groups, and online classes (Suller, 2004). Be sure to help consumers identify credible online resources.
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Chester, A., & Glass, C. (2006). Online counselling: a descriptive analysis of therapy services on the internet. British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, 34, 145-160.
Gore, P.A. & Leuwerke,W.C. (2008). Technological Advances: Implications for counseling psychology research, training and practice. In S. D. Brown & R.W. Lent (Eds.), Handbook of counseling psychology (pp. 38-53). Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Griffiths, F., Lindenmeyer, A., Powell, J., Lowe, P., & Thorogood, M. (2006) Why are health care interventions delivered over the internet? A systematic review of the published literature. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 8, p. e11 http://www.jmir.org/2006/e11
Ipsen, C. & Goe, R. (2016). Factors associated with consumer engagement and satisfaction with Vocational Rehabilitation. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 44, 85-96.
Mulhauser, G. (2011a). Advantages of therapy or counseling by email. Retrieved fromwww.counsellingresource.com/lib/therapy/service/online-advantages/
Shaw, H. & Shaw, S. (2006). Critical ethical issues in online counseling: Assessing current practices with an ethical intent checklist. Journal of Counseling and Development, 84, 41-53.
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Zelvin, E., & Speyer, C. (2004). Online counseling skills, part I: Treatment strategies and skill for conducting counseling online. In R. Kraus, J. Zack, & G. Stricker (Eds.), Online counseling: A handbook for mental health professionals. San Diego: Elsevier Academic Press.