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Experiences of Counsellors Providing Online Chat Counselling to Young People

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2014

Mitchell J. Dowling*
Faculty of Health, University of Canberra, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia
Debra J. Rickwood
Faculty of Health, University of Canberra, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia Headspace: National Youth Mental Health Foundation, North Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
address for correspondence: Mitchell Dowling, Faculty of Health, University of Canberra, University of Canberra, Bruce ACT 2601, Australia. Email:


Online counselling is a rapidly growing field and, while there is emerging evidence of its comparative effectiveness, there has been little research into what techniques are being applied in practice and which clients will most likely benefit from this medium. Using a focus group methodology, this study examines the experiences of 19 online clinicians employed by a youth mental health service, investigating their perception of online clients, views on their counsellor roles, the approaches and techniques they employ, and the unique aspects of counselling in an online environment. Overall, online clinicians perceived their clients as presenting with highly complex problems and a high level of psychological distress. They noted online clients would most often use the service once or twice, and that some would use online chat as an adjunct to face-to-face counselling. The online clinicians described various roles, including: assessments, gatekeeping, providing emotional support, and therapeutic interventions. According to the online clinicians, they used a variety of techniques online, but favoured person-centred techniques, as these helped keep the clients engaged with the service. Areas of further research and implications for practice are discussed.

Copyright © The Author(s), published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of Australian Academic Press Pty Ltd 2014 

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