In the past few years some Canadian colleges and universities have begun providing online counselling services for their students. I personally know of five post-secondary institutions that are now considering providing this type of counselling in the near future. I also know post-secondary counsellors who have received training in Online Counselling who are not yet able to offer this service at their institution.
In the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Philippines, South Korea, Singapore, Japan, Greece and Denmark colleges and universities have adopted Online Counselling as well. The format for provision of online counselling services varies: live chat, email q &a, real-time Skype or Instant Messaging exchanges, online peer support groups, online life coaching and asynchronous email exchanges.
Why might this be an idea whose time has come?
Research on young adults’ help seeking behaviours indicates a willingness to seek professional help for mental health issues is influenced by gender, cultural perceptions/attitudes/beliefs about mental health, emotional competence, previous experiences with professionals, mental health literacy and supportive social influences.  Mental health and well-being is critical at this stage of development though young adults are often poorly informed about how best to help themselves. As indicated below the first source of information is often the Internet.
The Pew Internet Research Group in the US reports that the key purposes for which individuals across all age groups 18 – 74+ use the Internet is (in order): email, search, seeking health information (including mental health). Another researcher states, “The Internet has become one of the first places that people now turn to in times of distress.”
Student Groups that may be reluctant or unable to access face-to-face Counselling Services
There are some student groups that are more reluctant to access services in the more traditional face-to-face format.
For example some students:
- Feel more comfortable addressing things online or in writing rather than f2f
- Are distance learners, in co-op education, on internships or practicum placements or on exchange and so are not on campus
- Have irregular schedules, parental or caregiver responsibilities that make attending counselling appointments in person difficult
- Have a disability which makes it difficult to get to f2f appointments
Postsecondary students are digitally ‘savvy’
Internet use for a wide variety of purposes continues to rise, according to Statistics Canada. “In 2009, 80% of Canadians aged 16 and older, or 21.7 million people, used the Internet for personal reasons, up from 73% in 2007 when the survey was last conducted… On the basis of age, Internet use increased among all groups … In 2009, 98% of people aged 16 to 24 went online, up slightly from 96% two years earlier.”
When you consider that a large percentage of post-secondary students are 24 or younger – which means that they are members of “Generation Y” the most digitally active generation yet – it makes sense to offer counselling in an online format.
Dawn Schell, MA, CCC is an affiliate of Worldwide Therapy Online, Inc.
 A number of research papers on this topic were reviewed and summarized
 Zickuhr, K. Generations 2010. Pew Internet & American Life Project, December 16, 2010, http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2010/Generations-2010.aspx, accessed on April 27, 2011.
 Greidanus, E. (2010). Online Help Seeking (Doctoral Dissertation). Available from ProQuest Digital Dissertation database (ProQuest document ID: # 2183195301).
 Stats Can Canadian Internet Use Survey released in The Daily, May 10, 2010
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA