Online Counselling Explained

Consider online and telephone counselling if you’re worried about something now or from your past. Maybe you are anxious, depressed, grieving or have suffered the loss of a loved one?  Or are you having problems with relationships or self-esteem? Whatever you are feeling, counselling therapy may help. Before you arrange counselling therapy, you need to ensure you are dealing with a suitably qualified counsellor.

What does online counselling mean?

Online counselling is mental health counselling therapy delivered via an internet connection using an audio or video call, using several devices such as a computer, smartphone or tablet. Email and web-chat are also a way therapists deliver counselling online with clients. Several popular programs/applications used by counsellors include Skype, Zoom, WhatsApp and even FaceTime!

Why use an online counselling service?

Online counselling can complement or replace face-to-face counselling therapy; there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach. It’s not always possible for people to attend a counsellor’s therapy premises; illness, distance, inconvenience, work commitments or lack of time are all reasons. Occasionally disability presents travel obstacles. Using a video link or FaceTime/Skype is sometimes the only way for individuals to get professional and confidential counselling support.

How much does counselling online cost?

Costs vary throughout the UK, ranging from £35  to £100 or more for a counselling session lasting anything from 50 to 60 minutes. Free counselling is available via your GP (in the UK), often there is a wait of 6 months or more. Some therapists offer online counselling at a reduced rate to face-to-face.

How does online counselling work?

It’s all effortless and straightforward:

  • Book a convenient time-slot using the counsellor’s online calendar and choose a telephone or video call.
  • Pay the appropriate fee online using Paypal, bank transfer, credit or debit card.
  • Your counsellor will confirm the appointment date and time by telephone, text message or email.
  • The method to be used for counselling therapy will also be agreed (video link, WhatsApp or FaceTime).
  • Next, counselling therapy is delivered by the counsellor on the appointed date and time.
  • Choose whether to use the video facility on the call or just the audio, your choice!
  • During the therapy session, you can discuss with your counsellor if you want further counselling therapy.
  • Book another session or a block of sessions and pay as you go, or several sessions in advance.
  • The online counselling therapy will finish at the end of the allotted time slot.

Nowadays, it is straightforward to communicate online with your therapist. Use a desktop computer, tablet or smartphone wherever you are, and your counsellor will speak to you via an easy-to-use, secure service.

Is online counselling effective?

Some professionals or experts believe that counselling by telephone and online is not as effective as face-to-face, however, ‘The Lancet’ substantiated claims that online CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), is equally effective in treating depression as traditional therapy. Other studies seem to support this. Telephone counselling is also an effective treatment for depression.

Clients engaging in face-to-face therapy sometimes prefer online counselling because it is more convenient from the comfort of their home, and it saves travel time/costs.

Is online therapy confidential and secure?

Online therapy is only as secure as the programs or applications used. However, Skype, Zoom, WhatsApp and FaceTime are all part of huge multi-national companies investing billions in developing these products. Safety and security are a top priority.

Therapy by telephone has been around a lot longer and is also a secure medium. However, all methods of engaging with a counsellor online are not guaranteed to be completely secure. Using a telephone is generally considered safe, but determined hackers can also intercept telephone calls.

What are the Pros and cons of online counselling?


  • Often cheaper than face-to-face counselling.
  • Save on travelling costs.
  • Discrete, no bumping into someone you know in the waiting room!
  • Anonymous, confidential and private, you can hide your identity by turning off the video, if you wish.
  • No need for any complicated registration process.
  • Straightforward and easy to use.


  • No direct face-to-face interaction may mean the counselling feels impersonal and cause barriers between counsellor and client.
  • Some older or less tech-savvy clients may find new media challenging to operate.

Email counselling

Email counselling is an alternative method of delivering counselling therapy face-to-face or online video/audio.

Counsellors/therapists work with their clients by exchanging emails between themselves. The therapist will identify problems or issues of worry to the client and provide a considered therapeutic reply. Writing down questions often helps individuals identify and understand what’s bothering them and crystalise thoughts and feelings. Recording problems or issues in a considered way can be better than face-to-face therapy, for some people, where they may feel under pressure to engage in the therapeutic process.

Pros of email counselling

  • Using email gives time for reflection and a more considered response for both counsellor and client.
  • No need for instant replies, response frequency decided by the client/counsellor.
  • Available 24/7 and anonymous, if required.
  • Counselling via secure encrypted email exchange.
  • There is no pressure for instant responses, unlike face-to-face counselling sessions.
  • Accessible anywhere and anytime.
  • Choose between using a computer, smartphone or tablet for email exchange sessions.


  • Impersonal, may be difficult for counsellor and client to form an empathic relationship.

Online counselling using Web-Chat

Online chat is another way to deliver counselling therapy using an instant messenger type service. Web-chat enables therapy clients to receive an instant response in real-time, which may be more beneficial for some clients who need immediate interaction and reply from their therapist.

Pros of Web-Chat counselling

  • Available 24/7 worldwide.
  • Get instant responses to your questions.
  • Save the web-chat and review it at your leisure.
  • An alternative to face to face or telephone counselling, allowing anonymity.
  • Access anywhere, anytime, and on the go.
  • No problem if you can’t get out or travel.
  • Suitable for expatriates in a different country to that of the counsellor.


  • Web Chat may feel impersonal without some sort of face-to-face interaction.
  • There can be delays in sending and receiving messages.
  • Communicating via web chat may seem impersonal.

 Counselling via video link

The most popular way for counsellors to engage in online therapy sessions with their clients is by using video allowing real-time interaction, which is probably the next best thing to face-to-face therapy.


  • Using a video link, you can see and hear your counsellor, often with good quality depending on the internet connection
  • Video calling is available 24/7 and from anywhere in the world.
  • Talk freely, no need to type, allowing you to concentrate on what’s said.
  • Share your face using the video screen or turn off temporarily or permanently during the therapy session.
  • There are few call charges which is useful if you’re in another country.
  • Hear and see your counsellor, which may help in times of distress.
  • You can access counselling from home, no need to travel, saving time and expense.
  • Great for English-only speaking expatriates or those that want to use a qualified UK counsellor with an accredited organisation.

Cons of online video counselling

  • It can be impersonal.
  • Possible time lag due to distance and quality of internet connection.

Telephone counselling

Counselling or therapy by telephone has been around in some shape or form since the invention of the phone. Whether it’s a doctor or mental health therapist advising patients, the phone has long been the preferred choice for talking therapy if face-to-face counselling is not available. Despite the growing popularity of online video therapy, the telephone still has it’s place.

Advantages of telephone therapy

  • People are familiar with the telephone, and trust it as a means of communication.
  • A telephone call is available anywhere there is a phone, 24/7, worldwide.
  • Using the telephone for therapy is as easy as making a phone call.
  • No need to reveal your identity, remain anonymous if preferred.
  • Speak to your counsellor in real-time and benefit from hearing their voice in times of distress.
  • There isn’t any need to travel to therapy sessions, saving time and money.
  • Using the telephone may be less worrying or stressful than face to face counselling therapy.
  • Telephone therapy is excellent for ex-pats, unable to use online video therapy.


  • Better forms of communication available, for example, via video link
  • Lack of video may lead to awkward silences, etc.
  • Difficult to express emotions, easier using video with audio.

What qualifications should counsellors and therapists have?


BACP Logo - 45587

Counsellor registered with a professional accredited body, BACP

Always use a qualified therapist appearing on an accredited register such as the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) or British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP). Not all therapists are appropriately registered or qualified to give counselling therapy, ask your GP for advice if you are unsure.

Check also, if the therapist has proper terms and conditions, a counselling contract and will protect your privacy, before booking therapy sessions.