Online Counselling

Before you start, several things about online counselling are very important to know (also called e-counseling, e-therapy, online therapy, etc.). This method has great advantages – but also some risks to manage. I work closely with the Canadian group Therapy Online on using the most current research and professional standards available. If curious, you could read more about the Therapy Online research programs, including a number of academic articles.

This page covers some general implications of online therapy, delivery options (i.e., text and video), and important things about security and confidentiality.

The advantages of e-counselling include ease of access (no commuting time or expense), flexibility, and ability to find a therapist who fits you best even if he or she does not live in your area. However, we must all live in Canada! Sorry, I cannot presently work with people who permanently reside in other countries.

E-counselling differs from traditional face-to-face psychotherapy in some ways. Your therapist has far less control over the process, and no control at all over your environment. As such, you pretty much have take more control and responsibility than if we were meeting in my office. Otherwise the whole thing just wouldn’t work well. This includes deciding on whether online counseling is a good fit for you and monitoring your privacy. Although clients taking an active position contributes hugely to success in face-to-face psychotherapy as well. So, the more you put into counselling or psychotherapy, the more you are likely to get out of it.

We also must have a plan for emergencies. During, or even before the first session, we need to confirm resources local to you for immediate help. Plans like this are usually made as needed in face-to-face therapy. Yet in online therapy, they are ethically required for all clients at the outset.

The two methods of online therapy that I deliver

are text-based “Private Conversations” using the PrivacEmail system or video counselling using the Doxy.me system. I use these particular systems because they are the best ways to protect your information known to me.

1. PrivacEmail “Private Conversations”
I cannot possibly fulfill my duty of protecting your confidentiality if we use regular email. Here’s a detailed explanation why. Briefly, despite passwords upon login, regular email does not encrypt information when sending or storing, so it can be compromised at several points. In contrast, PrivacEmail is like online banking. Yes, you need to register, no way around spending those couple of minutes. And once you do, it is user-friendly, with encryption running in the background, and using only Canadian servers. You get a notification in your regular email every time I send you a Private Conversation. Here is the full list of PrivacEmail features.

In terms of counselling experience, Private Conversations are just like email: We can review and reflect on each other’s words. You also have access to our written conversations at any time, so you can always return to things that feel important. However, with no ability to see or hear each other, words are the only thing we have. So, once you register with PrivacEmail, you also get access to a free and brief tutorial that explains how to get the most out of text-based conversations. You need to decide whether writing and reading are effective for you, as well as when and where to read my messages and respond to me.

2. Doxy.me Video Counselling
Skype is the most well-known software for video conferencing. However, current guidelines recommend against it, because (a) Skype privacy policies allow it to review content and technically, prohibit individual commercial use, (b) Skype is vulnerable to the U.S.A. federal laws on electronic monitoring, including the Patriot Act, and (c) new platforms designed specifically for the delivery of online health services have been developed.

Doxy.me is one such service. It is encrypted and requires no download (once we arrange an appointment, I send you a link to my waiting room page, and that’s all you need). Doxy.me uses peer-to-peer conduits, reducing the chances of our information passing through U.S.A-based servers if we are both in Canada (please note that unlike PrivacEmail, this is risk reduction only, not a guarantee of the data remaining on Canadian servers).

Although we can see and hear each other in video counselling, technology is not always reliable. Our internet connection may drop; sound and video may be delayed, interrupted, or fail entirely. These issues could have a significant effect on your counselling experience. We must have a backup plan (e.g., phone connection) for any such interruptions: I do not want you to be left hanging, especially when you are sharing something vulnerable with me!

Security, Confidentiality, and Privacy

I am committed to protecting your confidentiality. I aim to honour or exceed the Canadian legal and ethical requirements of information privacy through responsible information management practices. Any personal information you provide is collected, used, and disclosed in compliance with the ethical codes of the counselling profession and the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act of Canada. This means using encrypted communication wherever technically possible, storing any electronic information in encrypted form on password-protected devices, employing up-to-date anti-virus software, and having cyber-breach liability insurance in place. However, no data transmission over the Internet can be guaranteed to be 100% secure. Basically, I do my best to ensure the highest level of security on Fidus Counselling Services’ systems.  But – standard technological disclaimer: I cannot ensure or warrant the security of any information during transmission to or from my site.

Furthermore, the very nature of online communication means that I have no control over your environment. I can only possibly protect your confidentiality on my end — you share the responsibility of protecting it on your end. This is a key difference from in-person counselling! Specific things you should pay attention to include:

✓   Please, please, please make sure you and your computer are in a private place for online counselling. All the security on the Internet is effectively useless if people can look over your shoulder, or eavesdrop on your video counselling session.
✓   The same logic applies if people gain unauthorized access to your device or communications. This is pretty standard e-safety hygiene: Do not share your passwords or do not stay logged in at shared computers. For the secure PrivacEmail system, do not allow your browser to store your password and clear your recent browsing history. These steps should help you keep your personal information safe, and are particularly important if others may be using the same computer after you.
✓   Be aware of the security issues related to downloading and storing files. If you choose to keep files related to counselling on your device(s), you become fully responsible for safeguarding them.
✓   Please be aware that computer viruses, malware, and even legitimate software products exist that can record keystrokes. It is good practice to always ensure that your computer is running up-to-date antivirus software and all available general operating system and specific software security updates.

Connect with me if you want to talk more or feel ready to book.