As I mentioned last time a number of crisis lines have added online services such as real-time chats and e-counselling. It’s not just Canada. A 2007 report from Child Helpline International lists 13 other countries that make use of web-based support in addition to their phone-based support. Given the shifts in help-seeking behaviour in youth it makes sense.
While web-based support is being widely used researchers and crisis line counsellors are still determining what makes for the most effective and appropriate ways to use this medium. Research has been focussed on outcomes, session impacts, building rapport, assessing therapeutic alliance, comparisons of telephone versus chat, motivations for choosing chatting versus calling and client feedback.
One thing is abundantly clear from the research (both academic and informal research conducted by various crisis lines) – providing crisis counselling in a chat format is quite different than telephone counselling! Building rapport and establishing a working alliance online require new skill sets. Learning how to pose questions, how many to pose at a time, how to show you are listening and engaged, how to express emotion, timing, pacing – it all takes time, practice to learn the best ways to be effective.
A common observation in the research is chat counselling generally takes more time than telephone counselling. A study done by researchers from the University of Amsterdam noted the average duration of a chat was 24 minutes while the average phone conversation was 9.3 minutes. Similar time frames were noted in the rest of the research I read. Why? Most obvious answer – the client is multi-tasking. Of course there are possible explanations.
When it comes to choosing chat versus using the telephone, “Some children prefer to discuss their problems using chat because this enables them, among others, to discuss sensitive issues silently with somebody in private; it provides them with more time to think about what they want to say and to understand what the other person has said. Chatting also allows the volunteer who is helping them to remain at a distance. Some children in our study clearly indicated, for example, that they preferred to call with the Kindertelefoon because they considered telephone conversations less anonymous, whereas other children expressed in equally clear choice of words that they preferred chatting because of its anonymity.4 Similar results were found by other researchers.
Dutch and Australian research indicates “both the telephone and the web-based support improved the children’s well-being and decreased their perceived burden of problem”.4 While Australian research reports “the therapeutic alliance is weaker in online than in phone counselling” the Dutch research claims higher rates of client satisfaction, progress and maintenance of gains made for online than for phone counselling4.
It seems to me that we need to continue to develop counselling methods that take advantage of what’s best in both modalities.
Dawn Schell, MA, CCC is an affiliate of Worldwide Therapy Online Inc.
 Child Helpline International. (2007). Connecting to children; A compilation of child helpline 2005 data (4th ed.). Amsterdam, the Netherlands: CHI.
 Timm, M. (2011) Crisis Counselling Online: Building Rapport with Suicidal Youth. (Master’s thesis). Retrieved from cIRcle UBC https://circle.ubc.ca/handle/2429/33792 on January 31, 2012.
 Bambling, M., King, R., Reid, W. & Wegner, K. Online Counselling: The experience of counsellors providing synchronous single-session counselling to young people. Counselling and Psychotherapy Research, June 2008; 8(2)
 Fukkink, R.G. & Hermanns, J. (2009). Counseling Children at a Helpline; Calling or Chatting? Journal of Community Psychology, 37, 8.
 King, R., Bambling, M, Reid, W. & Thomas, I. (2006). Telephone and online counselling for young people: A naturalistic comparison of session outcome, session impact and therapeutic alliance. Counselling and Psychotherapy Research, 6 (3).
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA