Online counseling is bringing counseling to more people—and changing the counseling profession.

Counselors play a vital role in today’s world. In 2014 alone, 15.7 million U.S. adults reported having a depressive episode, and 21.2 million needed treatment for addiction.* Another 6.1 million people annually seek out marriage and/or family counseling.

In many instances, these people receive help from highly trained counselors—and an increasing number of counselors are now providing services online. Through Internet-based applications, counselors are reaching out and making themselves available in new ways, improving lives not just in the U.S. but around the world. Here’s some information on exactly what online counseling is, and the benefits for both clients and counseling professionals.

How Is Counseling Different from Psychotherapy?

While different educational paths and different licensure requirements separate counseling from psychotherapy, the most basic difference is that counseling focuses on a specific issue while psychotherapy takes a holistic and often longer-term approach to healing. For example, a marriage or couple’s counselor helps navigate relationship issues, a mental health counselor works through specific behavioral or mental health concerns, and so on. A psychotherapist, by contrast, explores larger behavioral and emotional issues in search of underlying psychological problems.

Does Online Counseling Work?

While this emerging method of providing counseling services requires additional research, the early evidence suggests online counseling is indeed effective. This is particularly true for scenarios like non-crisis marriage counseling and routine mental health counseling. And because online communications are now the norm for many people, establishing a beneficial relationship with a counselor may be easier than it would have been several years ago.

What Are the Benefits of Online Counseling?

In many instances, online counseling can save time and money when compared with traditional, in-person counseling. This can be of great benefit for those who need help but whose schedules or finances make it difficult to take advantage of traditional in-person counseling services. The global nature of the Internet also allows people to select from counselors around the world, increasing the chances of finding a counselor whose availability, focus area, and personality are the best match.

Who Provides Online Counseling?

Online counseling is a still-developing field, so there are a wide variety of providers. Some websites may use non-licensed individuals to provide counseling-like services. To get the most out of online counseling, confirm that the counselor holds the appropriate degree and has the appropriate experience and licenses—just as with traditional in-person counseling.

What Is the Typical Format for Online Counseling?

There is no one format for online counseling. It can include any form of counseling that occurs through the Internet rather than in a face-to-face setting. Typical formats include e-mail, real-time chat, instant messaging, video conferencing, and Internet phone calls. In all instances, clients are connected with an actual counselor. The individuals are simply not in the same location.

How Do I Become an Online Counselor?

Most jurisdictions require counselors—regardless of the format of their services—to hold an advanced degree in counseling, complete a specific number of counseling hours, and obtain licensure. If you’re interested in working specifically in online counseling, you may consider earning your counseling degree online. The experience of online learning can help you master the nuances of online communication.

There are numerous online counseling degrees available. To choose the best path for you, decide which population you wish to serve, and select an online university that offers the relevant degree. Common online counseling degrees include MS in Marriage, Couple, and Family Counseling, MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, and an MS in School Counseling.

Want to help others by providing the counseling they need to address issues and improve quality of life? Walden University is an accredited institution offering online counseling degrees. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format.


*Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Behavioral Health Treatments and Services, on the Internet at www.samhsa.gov/treatment.

†American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, Marriage and Family Therapists: The Friendly Mental Health Professionals, on the Internet at www.aamft.org/iMIS15/AAMFT/Content/Consumer_Updates/Marriage_and_Family_Therapists.aspx.

‡NPR, Online Psychotherapy Gains Fans And Raises Privacy Concerns, on the Internet at www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2014/06/30/325488110/online-psychotherapy-gains-fans-and-raises-privacy-concerns.

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.

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