Assessing the Suitability of Email-Based Online Counselling

A few specific questions are worth pondering before deciding to try out online therapy or counselling services. There are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers to any of these questions, but reflecting on them might influence how appropriate you feel online therapy or counselling by email would be for you.

Advantages, Disadvantages, and Contra-Indications

In a few cases, I believe it would be inappropriate to initiate counselling by email; in all such cases, I will clearly indicate this below. For additional considerations, our sister site provides a detailed look at the Advantages of Counselling by Email and the Disadvantages of Counselling by Email.

Present Circumstances and Online Therapy

Several specific factors from your current situation may be worth considering when you evaluate whether working online is right for you.

Are you presently working with another counsellor or therapist?

If you are presently working with another counsellor or therapist, in almost all situations I believe it would be best to discuss with them your interest in beginning email counselling. If you decide to try email counselling while in another counselling relationship, I will also be glad to discuss with you the potential interaction between our counselling and your other counselling relationship. In some cases, I may not feel able to provide an effective service, but in others it may be possible. For example, I have previously worked with clients who are also undertaking hypnotherapy, and on many occasions, I have worked with clients who are in regular contact with a psychiatrist or other physician.

My general rule of thumb in such situations is that all three parties involved need to be fully informed and confident that the two working relationships can be developed and the counselling or other work undertaken in a fashion which is complementary and helpful.

Are you over 18 years of age?

Please note that I only offer email counselling to clients over the age of 18.

Do you have specific suicidal or homicidal intent?

I am unable to work effectively with clients harbouring specific homicidal intent, because I feel ethically obliged to disclose serious threats to other people. I also do not feel email counselling is appropriate for clients experiencing specific suicidal feelings. If you are feeling suicidal, please consider contacting your physician or an organization such as The Samaritans or Befrienders International immediately.

Do you believe you are presently suffering from an acute psychiatric disorder requiring medical attention?

If this is the case, please seek medical attention first, and we can discuss online therapy second. When working with clients experiencing acute psychiatric distress, it is important that full psychiatric support is continuously available to the client.

Are you experiencing a severe crisis right now?

If you are presently experiencing a severe crisis which is impinging upon your overall functioning, it may be more appropriate to seek face-to-face support in your local area.

Would you like to discuss topics which require visual contact?

Some topics (such as visible physical disabilities) are less easily discussed via email, and if it is important to you that I can physically see you, email counselling would not be appropriate.

Using the Medium: Communicating Therapeutically Online

Your overall level of comfort with computers and online technology will also naturally impact on how useful working online might be for you. Naturally, if you’re reading this, you already have some experience with online technology!

How comfortable are you expressing your thoughts and/or feelings via typewritten text?

Does this sound like a welcome opportunity to put things down in writing? Could it be challenging or frustrating?

Are you comfortable with communicating asynchronously?

Are you comfortable with having to wait for a reply to your messages, rather than receiving an immediate response?

Are you comfortable with taking necessary security precautions on your own computer?

For your own privacy and confidentiality, it will be important to take care of your personal data on your computer. If you would like to take advantage of encryption support, would you be happy to install and configure appropriate encryption software?

Other Questions

And last but not least…

Are you a personal friend of Dr Mulhauser or a member of his extended family?

I avoid forming ‘dual relationships’ (i.e., those which are simultaneously counselling relationships and something else) both in face-to-face and internet-based work, so I am unable to work as a counsellor with friends or family members.

This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser on . provides educational and informational content, not mental health advice. No warranty or representation, either expressed or implied, is given with respect to the accuracy, completeness, or suitability for purpose of any statement or view expressed on this site.

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