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Instant Messaging Counselling: what is it and the advantages and disadvantages

Instant Messaging Counselling, which is also know as Instant Chat Counselling, uses a phone app or computer program that allows an instant conversation between Client and Counsellor in a text-based format. Sessions are held in the same structure as a Face to Face session where the Client will prearrange a suitable time for the session. The Counsellor will then invite the Client to join them in a secure “Chat room” within the app. The app used by BrainHub CPW is “Signal” which is considered by the European Commission to be one of the most secure messaging apps available. It uses end-to-end encryption by default, and unlike other apps, it does not store any message metadata or use the cloud to back up messages. The session is then held in “real-time” via the internet. Sessions are usually an hour a week, but this is flexible to the individual needs of the client.

The Advantages of Instant Messaging Counselling:

IM Counselling can be held from any place that the client feels comfortable as long as there is good internet signal. This can be very advantageous for numerous reasons.

Accessibility: It can allow the client to choose a Counsellor they feel most suitable with anywhere in the world. Those who are physically disabled or unable to leave the house can still access therapy via this medium.

Anonymity: The fact that IM counselling removes the face to face contact that both in person or webcam work involves can sometimes aid clients in feeling that they can communicate more truthly and openly with the counsellor. It can help reduce any worries the client may have regarding bias on appearance, gender, age or race. The use of the internet is often seen by many as less threatening as it allows an invisibility and level of anonymity which some people will find empowering.

Convenience: There is the advantage for clients who might struggle with face to face interaction, whether that be due to social phobias, anxiety disorders or agoraphobia or because they struggle with talking to someone about the issues in person. This form of counselling relies purely on use of text, which can aid these issues for some clients.

It also loosens the restrictions on travelling and having to meet the counsellor somewhere or in BrainHub CPW’s case also prevent the need for a home visit with our Domiciliary service. It can then be fitted more easily into a client’s busy day.

Communication: The fact that IM messaging takes a written form can for many be an advantage. Sometimes clients will find it difficult to express their feelings or thoughts verbally, but it can be therapeutic for some to be able to write down their thoughts. It can also be effective for clients to be more self-reflective and can be used as a point of reference in the future for the client to return to.

Special Circumstances: In the current situation with much of the World under lock-down with COVID-19 it can be especially difficult to access mental health support. With IM Counselling it is easier to find a safe secure environment, without the risk of being overheard or text being seen on a phone.

The Disadvantages of Instant Messaging Counselling:

Whilst there are several pro’s to IM counselling, as with everything in life there are also potential disadvantages to using this medium for client-counsellor work.
Some of these include:

Difficulties with technology: Whilst “Signal” is as secure as you can get when it comes to instant messaging there are always concerns over security and confidentiality when using the internet. BrainHub CPW are regularly reviewing the security of the apps we use and ensure that we are up-to date with our programs. Our phones and laptops are securely protected as per GDPR instructions and client data is kept safely and securely. Your privacy, confidentiality and security are of huge importance to us and we do everything in our power to ensure that we offer the very best, secure service.
Other technological issues that can arise tend to evolve around the quality of the internet provision. We at BrainHub CPW ask for a 2nd form of contact details so that if internet should drop out or there are other issues, we can contact our clients in another form. It can be difficult and distressing for clients if the session is disrupted and this has to be taken into consideration.

Lack of verbal and nonverbal cues: During face to face counselling, especially as the relationship between the counsellor and client develops, body language and other verbal and nonverbal cues can be essential in gauging the clients true feelings and can be picked up by the counsellor. With a purely text based therapeutic service like IM Counselling these cues are not available to the counsellor, or similarly for the client when the counsellor is responding.

IM Counselling also lacks expression of tone of voice, facial expression and eye contact, these elements can be helpful during therapy and the lack of them has to be understood by both counsellor and client when choosing to use IM as the medium for counselling. It is important to understand that some text can potentially be taken out of context and especially for the client to be aware that the counsellor may need to ask for confirmation of what or how something is meant.

Ethical Issues: The counsellor needs to ensure that they are working legally and ethically with clients. As the internet crosses international boarders, the counsellor needs to ensure that the client they are working with lives in a country that they are licensed and insured to work within. For example, BrainHub CPW can’t currently work in this way with anyone living in the USA.

There is also the ethical dilemma’s around not knowing who is at the other end of the chat and in a similar manner it is important that the client knows exactly who they are talking to. The more counselling via the internet, and especially IM Counselling expands, the greater the risk that the client can be exploited by inexperienced counsellors or more worryingly non-qualified counsellors, which could potentially cause harm. Therefore, it is important to ensure you carefully research the counsellor you are going to work with, and that people are referred to credible counselling agencies. For more information on both Phil and Harriet or on BrainHub CPW overall please use these links…… 

In Conclusion

IM Counselling offers a convenient and accessible form of counselling for people which can often be easier to fit into our busy lives. The current situation with COVID-19 also means that it is an option that can be used now for people to find the support they need without breaking the Lockdown rules, or needing to speak verbally when it maybe difficult with other people within the house. IM Counselling offers some unique potential and can be highly effective if used correctly with the right client. It does also present some difficulties and challenges and the client and counsellor need to be well informed of these prior to engaging in a therapeutic relationship.

BrainHub CPW would encourage anyone who is interested in potentially using the IM Counselling Service that we offer, to contact us and discuss your thoughts and worries with us, we are happy to answer any questions and to discuss whether this is an appropriate service for you. Equally if you are considering using IM Counselling with another agency, please ensure that you use your due diligence to ensure they offer a secure and ethical service.


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Shaw, H.E., & Shaw, S.F. (2006). Critical Ethical Issues in Online Couselling: Assessing Current Practices with an Ethical Intent Checklist. Journal of Couselling and Development,

Trepal, H. Haberstroth, S. Duffey, T., & Evans, M. (2007).Considerations and Strategies for Teaching Online skills: Establishing Relationships in Cyberspace. Cousellor Education and Supervision,