Advantages and Disadvantages of Online Counseling and In-person Counseling


Did you know that only a limited number of people who are referred by a physician to seek mental health services ever receive those services? Why is this?

Is it because they do not want to get well, or are there other factors? As you might guess, the reasons are many; and among them is the problem that acquiring counseling services is too difficult. Consider this. A man suffering from depression, to receive counseling must:

  1. Overcome his apprehension, embarrassment and fear of seeking counseling
  2. Come to terms that people in his community might find out he is in therapy
  3. Locate and research reputable local counseling services
  4. Make contact with a service (usually by phone) to schedule a session
  5. Accept, if insurance is to be used, that he will be diagnosed with a psychological disorder that will go in his health record
  6. Maintain motivation and courage while waiting for a scheduled session—the wait is often weeks or longer
  7. Execute his intentions of arriving at the counseling appointment (which may necessitate taking time off work).

For a person struggling with even common life-issues, this is a copious series of tasks. And what’s more, we—as counselors—cannot do much to make it easier. We often have long waiting lists for new clients, slow intake processes, and business hours that conflict with client work schedules. We have no option but to allow clients to suffer social stigma, to require them to travel to an unfamiliar place; to arrive promptly and presentably, all while battling depression, anxiety, grief, or perhaps the greatest personal crises of their lives.

And still we wonder, “Why is the compliance rate so low?”

Perhaps you’ve noticed these problems. If so, you’re among a growing number of counselors who are considering taking on the challenge of providing therapy services though methods such as telephone, email, text-chat, and even videoconference. Remember though, online counseling is more than an alternative for clients who “just can’t make it in” for in-person counseling.

The table below lists many suggested benefits of online counseling, aside from convenience.

In-person counseling


Has proven to be effective over many years of research and study

New research shows eCounseling to be effective, and sometimes more effective than in-person counseling

Has proven to be effective for building rapport/relationship between counselor and client

New research shows eCounseling is effective for building rapport/relationship between counselor and client.

A client has 45-50 minutes to tell his/her story

A client has unlimited amounts of time to detail his/her story by email.

Persons are often seen by members of their community at the counseling office

Due to the distance of the counselor , and absence of the counseling office, social stigma is eliminated

Clients can seek out the best counselor in their area

Clients can look outside their area for an excellent counselor

Client and counselor must show up during a designated time and at a designated location

Client and counselor do not meet at a designated place, and sometimes there is no designated time

Rates can be expensive, especially in urban areas

Clients benefit from lower overhead costs of counselors

Usually takes place during business hours: 9-5, Monday-Friday

Has potential for extended and flexible hours

Is difficult for the sick or immobile

Is accessible to homebound and ailing persons

There is risk of counselor sexual or social misconduct

There is less potential for counselor sexual or social misconduct

Are often client waiting lists

A counselor is always available

A counselor might not be experienced with the client’s presenting problem

Clients can search far and wide for a counselor experienced with their problem issues

Counselor may not be knowledgeable of the client’s ethnicity or language

Clients can select a counselor knowledgeable of their ethnicity and language

Client needs to overcome their apprehensions and fears of seeking counseling

Feeling more anonymous, clients with apprehensions and fears are more likely to seek counseling

Is ideal for clients who communicate well verbally

Is ideal for clients who communicate well verbally or by writing

Clients commit time to commuting, and often the ‘waiting room’ experience

Client time is spent on counseling issues

Clients feel an empty space between sessions

With email, there is no “end” to a conversation, so clients feel continually in dialog with their counselor

Clients may be intimidated by the counselor

Clients are less likely to feel intimidated by the counselor

Clients may forget their feelings, resolutions, and commitments spoken in session

Clients are able to save writings regarding their feelings, resolutions, and commitments

Clients might forget a counselor’s guidance and advice

Clients are able to save counselor’s guidance and advice, if it is in writing

Clients might not see clearly their progress

Saved text is a testament to a client’s treatment progress.

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