Benefits & Limitations of Virtual Counseling
As your School Counselors, we are bound by the American School Counselors Associations’s (ASCA) Ethical Standards, and legal requirements of the State of Oregon. In our new school atmosphere, virtual communication, including email will be more prevalent. We want you to know that we must adhere to the same ethical guidelines as we had in our face-to face setting.There are benefits to virtual school counseling but we also need to recognize, so as to mitigate, the limitations of virtual school counseling which may include unintended viewers or recipients.
The benefits to an online environment include:
- Continuing our counseling relationships even if school is not meeting face to face.
- Some students find it easier to discuss personally significant topics without another person physically present.
- Some people find email/virtual communication encourages them to express themselves more clearly and places greater effort into understanding the other person.
Some people find it easier to express lengthy or complex ideas or feelings via email. Having time to think about things before the other person reacts is a great bonus.
- Writing about one’s experiences is a great tool from the toolbox and can be extremely helpful.
Counseling by email provides both student and counselor the opportunity to reflect on thoughts, feelings and other reactions to the other person’s words.
- Email/virtual counseling can take place from the privacy of your own home or where you feel most comfortable.
- Counseling via email/google hangout never involves someone in the middle arranging appointments, and it is not necessary to leave messages or play ‘phone tag’ to connect with your counselor.
Participating in an electronic school counseling relationship takes parties willing to understand that there may be struggles in online/virtual delivery and receiving of services. Confidentiality is at the core of our ethical guidelines with the following exceptions; if you share that you are planning on hurting self, hurting someone else, or abuse from an adult to a minor or adult to the elderly. If you share one of the above we legally and ethically must share that information with your parent/guardian or the police. Our goal is to keep you and others safe.
Because security, privacy and confidentiality are central to the counseling process, addressing encryption and security with a focus on the context of email counseling is key. Our tech department assures that our Google emails are encrypted offering a high level of security and confidentiality. As a reminder, all student records, including emails, can be requested by a parent/guardian and can be subpoenaed in a court of law.
When we are not available or you do not receive an email reply, please be aware that there are steps you can take in both emergency and non-emergency situations. In the case of a non-emergency, please follow up with an additional email, our goal is to connect with you within 48 hours during regular school hours.
In an emergency situation please access the following outside services:
Suicide Text Hotline
Curry Community Crisis Line
Bullying– Report a tip
Brookings Police Department
Body Language, Visual and Verbal Cues are used to provide contextual meaning to both the school counseling process and school counseling relationship. Without the face to face contact we need to make sure we help minimize and prevent potential misunderstandings. Please be clear in your email communications, use of humor or sarcasm in emails is difficult to detect, use of emoticons is helpful as well as fully stating your situation and feelings.
The limitations of virtual/distance counseling include:
Lack of Visual and Verbal Cues
It can be difficult enough to understand exactly what someone is saying in a face-to-face setting, but stripped of the kinds of visual and auditory verbal cues which we take for granted when communicating in person, the struggle to understand takes on a whole new dimension. Part of the beauty of the English language is that the same statement can take on a whole range of subtle meanings; but without that grin or frown, that raised eyebrow, that softened voice or dead-pan delivery, figuring out which meaning a person intends can be a real challenge. In text this is most difficult so use of emoticons and full explanations of both topics and feelings are encouraged.
Lack of Physical Presence
The lack of a physical presence of another person in the same room may make some people feel less emotionally intimate and less comforted in times of distress. As counselors we will work hard to bridge this so that you feel as comfortable as possible through our online/virtual communications.
Nature of Email & Urgency
Conversing in real time is easier than by email and can be frustrating to have to wait for your counselors reply. The inevitable time delay associated with email exchanges precludes the kind of urgent attention (or even emergency response) which is possible in a face-to-face setting.
Lack of Regular Appointment Times
Regular weekly appointments are impacted and limited to online Google hangout or email correspondence. We do understand that the absence of structure which fixed appointments provide is a disadvantage and we will work hard to address your needs as much as possible.
Signing up for appointments
Signing up for appointments is also impacted since you won’t be able to just step into the Counseling office to make an appointment. Instead, please understand that we will only be available by email.
Computer and Equipment (computer/cellphone) and Internet Failures
Relying on computers as a communications medium can bring technology into the foreground of the counseling process as an unwelcome participant. Technology serves as a tool for our communication. Be aware that hardware or software failure or internet failure can impact online availability. The best of technological tools sometimes require attention or create delays in communication and it can be frustrating if this occurs during a counseling exchange.
Confidentiality and Privacy in Shared Environments
Using computers at work, in an internet cafe or public library, or any other environment where other people have access to the same equipment introduces particular pitfalls for confidentiality and privacy in email counseling. Right now you will predominantly be using it from home which also means that there may be parent/guardians, siblings, or extended family close by.
Taking Time to Reflect
One of the advantages of email correspondence is that it provides time to reflect on what has been written and our own response to it. When emotions are high, it is easy to hit ‘Reply’ and fire off an immediate response to something another person has written. This carries the benefit of spontaneity, and sometimes that spontaneity is really valuable. At other times, however, it leads to regret, as it later sinks in that the immediate response didn’t really reflect the complexities of the emotions involved. It’s worth taking a moment to consider how the advantages of spontaneity compare with the advantages of reflection: there’s no ‘right’ answer that applies all the time, but one answer might be more or less right for any given person in a given situation.
When responding specifically to something another person has written, it can be helpful to quote all or some of the parts that you are replying to. This is especially important when a day or two has passed before a reply occurs which can help the recipient (counselors) identify exactly which part of your original message you are responding to.
Emphasis in Plain Text, Emoticons andTags
Emphasizing words and phrases through underlining, use of asterisks for italics, and ALL CAPITALS for a strong emphasis as well as plain text versions of winks ;-) or smiles :-) or frowns :-), emoticons, and web coding standards can help convey your message. Just remember that not everyone will be familiar with the newest, latest, greatest tags. We will do our best and ask for clarification if needed.
If a particular email evokes a powerful, passionate response, or feels as though it is a personal attack it can be helpful to pause and reflect on where that reaction comes from. Is the response particularly influenced by your own thoughts, assumptions, previous experiences, feelings or beliefs, over and above what your counselor has actually written? Is this really what your counselor meant? Is there anything else they could possibly mean? How might another person read this same message? Self-awareness is very valuable and so is communicating any concerns to the other person.