Overcoming Resistance: How I Learned to Love Online Counselling

(3 min read)

As a general rule of thumb, we develop behavioural patterns as a result of learned experience. If a behaviour has served us in the past, we’ll repeat it in the future, and as long as we feel that it benefits us, we’ll engage in it over and over again, thus forming the basis of a habit.

However, we live in a constantly changing world. In light of this, our circumstances often change, and in the face of change, habits that served us in the past may not serve us anymore. In order to succeed in our changing world, we’re required to adapt our behaviours to serve us within our new contexts. This process is known as evolution.  

Evolution requires intention to change on our part. However, taking action usually requires hard work, accompanied by the risk of failure. The uncertainty associated with risk leads to perceived stress since there is no guarantee that our efforts will pay off. In the end, fear can take over, which drives resistance to the very thing that we need – change itself.

Staying where we are feels comfortable, easy, and safe for most people. In the state of avoidance, we may not advance, but at least we’re not falling backwards. The problem with this mentality, however, comes when we’re still expecting continued movement forward. We stay where we are, doing things in the same way over and over again, yet wondering why things never seem to get better.

I admit that I can be somewhat resistant to change – I am human, after all. Generally, once I find a way of doing something that works, I like to hold on to it. I appreciate tradition, old architecture, old friends, the same breakfast most days of the week. I was one of the last of my friends to own a cell phone, use social media, and I’m still reluctant anytime I need to buy a new phone or computer…

Sometimes, however, if we don’t initiate change, change will come and find us.

And, this is exactly what happened to me a few years ago while I was setting up a private practice in my home at the time, Denmark. Following months of setting up office space, establishing a professional network, and building an in-person client base in Copenhagen, I was unexpectedly faced with having to leave the country due to the implementation of stricter immigration policies in response to the Syrian refuge crisis.

At first, I believed that all was lost. All of the time and effort I had put into establishing a business in my partner’s home country was gone, I thought…. until I learned, quite surprisingly, about the emerging world of online therapy as a way of staying in contact with my clients.

In the beginning, of course, I resisted the idea. I couldn’t imagine meeting with clients from behind a computer screen! I believed there was so much value in having face-to-face contact. “If we lose that,” I thought, “we lose everything!” However, after talking to therapists who were embracing the online therapy world, I slowly warmed up to the idea, learning that it might not be so bad. In fact, researchers were finding that online counselling was just as effective as face-to-face sessions (Barak, Hen, Boniel-Nissim & Shapira, 2007).

The first few times I met with clients for a video session was admittedly pretty uncomfortable (for both my clients and myself). I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I knew that as long as I was to remain loyal to my clients, I was being forced to adapt.

I can comfortably say that now, three years later, living back in Canada and growing my online business, video counselling has become my favourite mode of working with people, and it’s opening doors that I never thought possible.

The truth is, we live in a world that is dominated by technology, and if we learn to embrace this (being mindful about the simultaneous value of in-person connection), there can be many benefits — even, as much as my old self would hate to admit it, in the counselling world.

Online counselling provides me with the opportunity to offer lower fees (not having to worry about renting office space), which is especially helpful for students with a limited budget, as well as for those without insurance coverage for mental health counselling. I can offer shorter wait times and provide services for those living in remote areas where they might not otherwise have access to support (such as Canadians living abroad or in small communities). My clients and I are able to save time because neither of us have to commute to an office – clients living in large Canadian cities, for example, can meet for online sessions from their offices over the lunch hour. My clients in Europe, on the other hand, can conveniently meet for evening appointments from home, which, due to the time change, also happen to fall during my regular 9-5 working hours.

Furthermore, online counselling provides me with the flexibility of working from home while earning more, and it creates opportunities for taking my business wherever I go (it’s not necessarily confined by borders this time around). 

Of course, online counselling isn’t for everyone, and I would never suggest it should be (after all, those in immediate crisis ought to seek direct, in-person support), but when embraced, each of my online clients have reported that, while initially met with skepticism, they quickly come to prefer the convenience of meeting from home, curled up on their couch with their laptop and a cup of tea, and avoiding concerns about being seen coming and going from a therapy office. Furthermore, they are able to meet for regular check-ins regardless of where life takes them. Once the connection is made, therapist and client can continually touch base independent of location, without worrying about the therapeutic relationship coming to an end. More and more often, millennials speak of meeting with their therapists online, whether from their dorm rooms, or while sitting at the base of a mountain on their backpacking trip to Asia.

At the end of the day, I’m still reluctant to trying new ways of doing certain things (my friends can attest to this), but what my loss in Denmark and subsequent shift to online counselling has taught me is that if you can overcome your fear of losing the old and learn to embrace the new, you might just be pleasantly surprised.

*If you’re interested in trying online counselling, I invite you to try out a full 60-minute consultation free of charge. All you need is a secure internet connection, a private meeting space, and a willingness to embrace something new :)

***

Barak, A., Hen, L., Boniel-Nissim, M. & Shapira, N. (2007). A comprehensive review and a meta-analysis of the effectiveness of internet-based psychotherapeutic interventions. Journal of Technology in Human Services, 26(2-4), 109-160.

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