- What is online counselling?
- Why does Spokz People offer online counselling?
- What are the advantages?
- What are the disadvantages?
- When is online counselling not suitable?
- What technology do I need?
- Technological breakdown during instant messaging?
- How do I begin?
Technology Fact Sheets
- Installing Hushmail for secure emails
- Installing SKYPE for secure instant messaging
- Anti-Virus and Firewall software
- Screen and computer privacy
- Create a password for your computer log in
- Create a password for Word Documents
What is online counselling?
Online counselling is sometimes known as e-counselling or e-therapy. It is a way of obtaining counselling help from a professional counsellor without meeting with them in person. Instead, the counselling ‘sessions' are conducted online either live through instant messaging in a private chat room or by exchanging emails. Instead of talking through your problems with your counsellor, you write about them.
Online counsellors, because they store and process your personal data on computers, are required to be registered data controllers. As a non-profit organisation Spokz People are exempt from this requirement, though we do abide by all legal requirements relating to personal data storage and the data protection principles of the Data Protection Act. Please visit www.ico.gov.uk for more information.
Why does Spokz People offer online counselling?
Online counselling was set up for several reasons:
- For people who would like a specialist disability counsellor but do not have access to one in their local area
- For people who cannot attend face-to-face counselling because of health reasons, mobility reasons, shyness or anxiety
- For people who have verbal communication difficulties but who can communicate more easily in written form (e.g. cerebral palsy, Deafness, stroke)
What are the advantages?
- Online counselling is fast and convenient. It is a lot easier to schedule appointments and be more flexible in arrangements
- In addition, the costs are less as you do not have to pay for transport costs and the counsellor does not need to rent a room or pay for transport costs either
- You will also have a record of each email and it is possible to save the content of a live chat session as well to review and use again later (see Create a password for Word Documents)
What are the disadvantages?
- Without visual contact there is a lack of awareness of gestures, facial expressions and other cues which would tell the other person a lot about your emotional wellbeing
- Misunderstandings are more likely because of the lack of visual cues. How to work with this will be discussed with you when you start counselling
- There is also the possibility of technological failure which could mean the end of a session (see Technological breakdown during instant messaging?)
- Without sufficient IT knowledge your computer and therefore session content may not be secure and accessible to hackers - please see our technology fact sheets below for advice on IT
When is online counselling NOT suitable?
- In an emergency
- If you have any psychotic symptoms (hallucinations, delusions, thought disorganisation)
- If you need intense support, phone contact or hospitalisation
- If you are addicted to drugs or alcohol or if you have a psychiatric illness
- If you need a medical diagnosis or a prescription
What technology do I need?
You can choose to talk to the counsellor using Windows Live/MSN Messenger, however please be aware of the risks: MSN is vulnerable to access by third parties who can hack into your systems and view your information. Most people have Anti-Virus and Firewall software on their computers to prevent this, but it is not always sufficient.
We recommend added protection for email and instant messaging counselling by encrypting your communications. This means that you write a message which is automatically turned into code by a software programme before it is sent to the counsellor. The counsellor’s software then de-codes your message and he/she can then read it. The same happens in reverse. To send encrypted messages you will need to download and install Skype for instant messaging sessions or Hushmail for secure and private emails (see Installing Hushmail for secure emails, Installing SKYPE for secure instant messaging). With SKYPE it is possible to just write/chat or to have a video call (you can then see and hear each other).
It is also important to check the security of the rest of your computer to prevent others accessing your information. We advise you:
- Download or install Anti-Virus and Firewall software if you don't have these
- Be aware of your screen privacy
- Install a login password for your computer
- Know how to save instant messaging text in Word with a password
All these points are discussed in our technology fact sheets below.
Technological breakdown during instant messaging - what happens then?
If we disconnect, try to reconnect within 10 minutes. If reconnection is not possible, please email your counsellor or call our general helpline 0845 25 77 496 to reschedule an appointment. You will recoup any missed minutes.
How do I begin?
- Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org indicating you would like email counselling or instant messaging counselling.
- We will contact you to conduct the initial assessment – this will involve taking your details, discussing your suitability for online counselling and a brief overview of your issues. You will also be able to ask any questions about online counselling, about installing the right software or any concerns you may have. This assessment can be taken over the phone or via email or chat.
- At the end of the assessment session together we will decide whether online counselling is the best way forward. If so, the counselling agreement will be sent to you.
- You can then choose how to pay for either a one-off email or session or a package.
- Install the needed software and check your computer security measures.
- Once we have received your payment and returned agreement, your counsellor will then contact you to schedule your first email exchange or instant messaging session. The counsellor will take you through the counselling agreement before you start.
Installing Hushmail for secure emails
- Go to www.hushmail.com
- Click on [sign up for free emails]
- Choose your new email address and passphrase (password)
- Read terms of service and click [create my account]
- Once you sign in with your new address, select the [continue free] option. You must select this every time you log in
- Next enter your passphrase
- Once you are in your account, across the top menu bar you will see [compose] to start a new email
- From one Hushmail account to another (the counsellor's Hushmail) the email will automatically be encrypted in code
You must log in every 2 weeks for the account to stay active or you will not be able to email
Installing SKYPE for secure instant messaging
- Go to www.skype.com
- Click [Get Skype for Windows] and follow the instructions
Anti-Virus and Firewall software
A Firewall helps protect your computer by preventing unauthorized users from gaining access to it through a network or the internet. A Firewall is different from anti-virus software, but the two of them work together to help protect your computer. You might say that a Firewall guards the windows and doors against strangers or unwanted programs trying to get in, while an anti-virus program protects against viruses or other security threats that can try to sneak in through the front door.
If you use Windows on your computer you may automatically have Firewall and Anti-virus software installed. However, to check they are on and active, please do the following:
Click on [Start], then on [control panel] and [security centre] and you can see if the Firewall and Anti-Virus Protection are on and active.
Screen and computer privacy
Consider whether you are alone when you are communicating with the counsellor and whether anyone can view your screen. Preferably it is best to be alone when you are communicating with the counsellor, so that you can focus and there is no interference from others. However, if this is not possible, you can purchase a privacy screen which you put over your monitor and this screen helps prevent casual observers from viewing confidential on-screen information: the filters black out the view on either side of the monitor without blurring or distorting – you can only view the content if directly in front of the monitor.
If you are sharing a computer or using a workplace computer for our emails (or are worried about people accessing your confidential information) you could use a portable key drive (also called a USB drive), or a memory stick, or an external hard drive. Then you can store our emails on the portable drive or memory stick which can be removed and hidden when not in use. Do remember that if you use a workplace computer, your employer has legal ownership of any emails that are on it.
Using Hushmail requires a log in and messages are coded (encrypted) during transfer. You can store emails on Hushmail. This is the safest place to keep your counselling emails.
Creating a password for your computer log in
- Click on [Start]
- Select [Control Panel]
- Select [User Accounts]
- Select [Change or add a password]
Create a password for Word Documents - saving instant messaging sessions
If you want to save any communication between yourself and your counsellor, you can paste it into a Word document. Then:
- Click [Save as] or [Save as Word document]
- Click on [Tools] and then [General options] in the bottom left hand corner of the 'Save as' box.
- Create a password to open and to modify
Remember this password as you will not be able to open the document without it!