It’s a question I’ve heard many times. From colleagues as they try to understand how online counselling works and from parents as they puzzle over the amount of time their child spends on facebook (and other social media). Of course, they don’t often define “real” – just express this vague sense that somehow an online relationship is not valid.
Let’s look at some anecdotal reports from this past week in my life.
A counsellor I know is taking the Cybercounselling Level 1 course. She said she had learned it was possible to feel connected to people she had only met online. That she had “warm feelings” for the others in her course. This experiential learning was a pleasant surprise to her and enabled her to understand how a client and therapist might be able to establish a positive working relationship in an online format.
The CBC program “The Current” had a show about poverty and I listened to a number of people talk about having to make budgetary choices such as dipping in to their food money to pay for internet and cable. Why would they do that? Because having the internet/cable meant they felt less isolated and having some community or support was important enough to make that kind of difficult choice.
At dinner the other night friends were discussing how much closer they feel to far-flung friends and relatives since the advent of Skype and Facebook. One person said, “now I get to watch my niece growing up where before I would only see her once every four years”.
A friend recently experienced a tragic loss and has been quite public about her grief journey on facebook. It’s brave, courageous, raw, vulnerable, and real. The intense outpouring of love, compassion and support from friends is palpable and deeply moving.
In my online counselling practice clients tell me (directly and indirectly) they feel heard, understood and supported.
What about the research you say? Ah yes, research. There is an ever increasing amount of research on the topic of “live” versus “online” treatment and the efficacy of the therapeutic alliance in an online environment. If you are interested in knowing more you can go to this site for listings of research articles. I’ve read more than a few of them! http://construct.haifa.ac.il/%7Eazy/refindx.htm
So do I think online relationships are “real”. Yes, I do!
What about you? What do you think? Real or not?
The opinions expressed in this blogpost are personal.
Dawn Schell, MA, CCC is an affiliate of Worldwide Therapy Online Inc.
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA