Online Couples Counseling: An Introduction

Couples Counseling Online

Online couples counseling has taken off as an easily accessible mental health service specifically addressing relationships. Online couples counseling refers to the delivery of mental health services for couples via the Internet through e-mail or chat, real-time face-to-face remote interactions and/or video-conferencing. The range of internet based couples services is wide and varied.

You can download apps such as the Couples Counselling and Chatting app. The app includes access to resources such as quizzes and exercises, access to a couple’s expert, couple chatting tool as well as a range of other resources. Other sites such as Talkspace offer 24 hour access to a licensed couple’s therapist via text messages on an app.

There are a range of websites offering marriage and relationship counseling in various combinations and formats.  Some sites (e.g. Poweroftwomarriage) place greater emphasis on an online program comprised of a series of activities and exercises that can be done at the convenience of the client and cover topics such as communication and building intimacy. The service also includes e-mail and live access to a relationship coach who also customizes the program to the specific needs of the couple. Other sites while having an assignment component focus more on face-to-face video conferencing combined with in-person couples retreats (e.g. Couples Therapy Inc.). Then there are the simpler sites (e.g. Maritalcounseling.com) offering face-to-face couple counseling via a webcam. The range of possibilities is broad with varying emphases on online guided activities and face-to face contact.

The benefits of working online as a couple, reflect the benefits that apply to online counseling in general: ease of access to support, convenience, level of confidentiality and versatility. Your therapist is available online and you don’t need to battle through the physical complications of face-to face appointments such as struggling through traffic or arranging babysitting. Essentially you can have couple counseling in the comfort of your own home and you are not limited geographically with regard to your choice of therapist. Online couples counseling is completely private in the sense that no one else needs to know that you are going for couple counseling and you won’t encounter other patients. It also provides the possibility of couples counseling for couples in remote areas or where couples live far away from each other (e.g. where one of the partners may commute for work purposes).

Many online couples counseling services, such as ReGain.us, also offer an e-mail, messaging or online course component that may for many clients feel less threatening and exposing than working with a therapist in an office setting. In addition these varied modes of delivery allow for clients to access services when most needed and/or most convenient for them, provide alternative avenues for the expression of feelings and allows clients to control the pace of the counseling process. Even online counseling with a therapist affords more privacy and confidentiality than in-person counseling as well as more flexibility with regard to the mode and pace of delivery of the counseling. The versatility of delivery also means that couples can access services at cheaper rates.

The possibility of more honest, expressive and open communication with a therapist online especially for individuals who feel uncomfortable in face-to-face communication has been suggested as a benefit for individual online counseling (Perle, Langsam and Nierenberg, 2011). With regard to couples counseling this may also reflect an important advantage where couples may feel more comfortable and more open to sharing the “intimate secrets” of their relationship online. These factors may contribute to increased compliance and more consistent attendance for online couples counseling in contrast to face-to face counseling.

General research on online counselling views it as more suitable for moderate to higher functioning individuals (Stofle, 2001). This consideration logically would also hold with regard to couples counseling. Couples in highly explosive or abusive relationships would be advised to seek help in-person where they can also access appropriate support (e.g. police services). Similarly in relationships where one or both of the partners are suffering from mental illness, in-person counseling is preferred. A thorough literature search failed to source any articles specifically addressing the efficacy of online couples counseling. While much of the literature on the efficacy of online counseling in general may have application to couples counseling the efficacy of online couples counseling relative to in-person couples counseling is open to question. As such a cautionary approach would be to see talking to an online couples counsellor as suitable for less complex relationship issues for couples who require less containment and hands on resources and support. Ultimately the efficacy of couples counseling is underpinned by factors that transcend the mode of delivery such as the motivation and dedication of the couple, the timing of the therapy and the quality of the relationship the couple has with the counselor (Gaspard, 2015).

References:

Gaspard,T. Timing Is Everything When It Comes To Marriage Counseling.  Published online July 23, 2015.  https://www.gottman.com/blog/timing-is-everything-when-it-comes-to-marriage-counseling/

Perle, J.G., Langsam L.C. and Nierenberg B.  Controversy clarified: An updated review of clinical psychology and tele-health.  Clinical Psychology Review 2011; 31:1247–1258.

Stofle, G. S. (2001). Choosing an online therapist. Harrisburg, PA: White Hat Communications.

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Stacey Leibowitz-Levy

Dr. Stacey Leibowitz-Levy is a highly experienced psychologist with a Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology (Cum Laude) and a PhD in the area of stress and its relation to goals and emotion. She works with adults, teens and children within her areas of expertise. Take a look at her LinkedIn profile