An important component of online counselling is learning how to read between the lines. Same as in face-to-face (f2f) counselling it’s about paying attention. In f2f counselling we pay attention to the verbal and nonverbal cues (amongst other things). In online counselling we pay attention to: what people say, what they don’t say, word choices, phrasing, name substitutions, pacing, inconsistent spelling errors, understatements, grammar, punctuation (or lack of same), capitalization, use of metaphors, misquotes. I could go on but I assume you all know what I am talking about!
Let me give you a few examples of the kinds of statements clients might make and some of my “reading between the lines”.
Client – I have one living child.
There’s a story there [wondering if this was a deliberate choice of words].
Client – I tried really hard to help John.
Which implies that John rejected the “help” or it wasn’t sufficient or ?
Client – I know it’s not his fault he got this disease.
Angry? Feels trapped? Wants someone to blame?
Client – In my job I have control and balance.
Implying they don’t have control and balance in other areas of their life?
Client – I’ve always told him that would never come before him and I?
Ending with a question – did they tell him? Or are they rethinking their priorities?
Client – I took a lot of psychology and meth in university.
So did a lot of people…but I think the client means Math. Worth checking out?
A client talks for an entire session about their relationship but never tells me their partner’s name.
Hmmm, curious isn’t it?
A client session – 17 pages long, single-spaced, with no grammar or punctuation.
I’ve had this type of client session in person too – a breathless rush of words. Have they been holding this in for a while? Are they afraid someone will cut them off? Or, in their experience, no one listens?
The examples I have given here may seem obvious. Though I suspect they are obvious only when we are tuned in and present.
In reading between the lines I am careful not to assume anything. And equally careful not to make the client “wrong” if I am asking about a spelling error.
I share my observations or curiosity, ask questions and seek feedback that I have an accurate understanding about what they are saying. Sometimes clients say “Oh, I didn’t mean that at all. It was autocorrect or … [fill in the blank]”. Other times reading between the lines opens up a richer, deeper discussion of emotions or motivations or self-awareness.
I wanted to end this post with a clever statement so you would have to read between the lines to fully grasp my meaning. Sadly, I am fresh out of clever statements today….read into that what you will!
The views expressed in this blog post are personal.
Dawn Schell, MA, CCC is an affiliate of www.therapyonline.ca
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA