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Legitimate Online Counselors Are Coming, but Meanwhile, Consumer Beware – Part I

Online counseling is an area that is growing by leaps and bounds. Unfortunately for the many who jump online and simply upload their shingle onto the nearest website, most current practitioners haven’t been schooled in how and why practicing online is quite different from practicing face-to-face.

legitimateLuckily, an entire body of literature related to remote care and establishing the community standards for that care has been accumulating for almost 4 decades. That body of literature is available through scientific journals, and is readily available through the United States National Library of Medicine, also accessible through university nationwide as well as the Internet.

Ehealth, Telhealth & TeleMedicine

I strongly encourage my colleagues who are serious about online practice to heed the examples and lessons learned by those who have conducted those decades of research. It is only reasonable to assume that protocols established by research largely funded by the national Institute of Health (NIH) and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in telehealth, telemedicine and “ehealth,” the practice of healthcare on the Internet.

This research offers much more insight than that of self-proclaimed researchers who experiment with Internet-based consumers without regard to scientific precedent or research ethics.

Some Existing Online Counseling Websites

Worse yet are those clinicians who agree to work for online businesses who show no hesitancy in simply connecting psychologists, social workers and a variety of different types of licensed counselors, along with psychics and Tarot card readers to Internet-based consumers by chat rooms, email or telephone on a fee-per-minute basis.  Several of these websites exist and their fees typically range from $1.25 to $2 per minute.

Upon visiting one of these sites, I’m not sure why, but I kept imaging that they’d best be accompanied by a “carney”  character, shouting this oh-so-loud invitation upon entering the website:

Step right up, folks! Step right up! Would you like to have someone read your palm or counsel you on your homicidal rage today? Well, it doesn’t matter, just slide your credit card number right into the cute little computer field right here, and yessiree – we’ll find someone to talk to you in a jiffy …

Scarey?? Yes indeed, that’s one word I have to describe those websites.

I also have a few more words to describe my reaction, but that’s a discussion for another day.

The Future

To those of you who are as eager as I to see online counseling become a legitimate and scientifically sanctioned service online, all I can say is, “hang in there.”  It’s well on its way. Many credible research teams are developing a number of promising  protocols in telemental health.

I’ll tell you more about that after my next few blog posts, where I will carefully outline how consumers today can very easily get hurt online and have no practical or substantial recourse.

These are some of my thoughts. What are yours?

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