I was recently reminded that I had promised to send in an article for the August OLT blog and realised that my mind was completely blank! What on earth to write about? Then inspiration came to me through some other work I was doing.

I was working on a newsletter for a local counselling practice and included in it some interesting research that we had done earlier in the year. Several of my colleagues are school counsellors and so we had been invited along to a special day’s event set up by our local council for Year 9 students of the six secondary schools in our area.  The purpose of the event was to provide information about local career, community, and health projects to the young people, whilst being interactive and engaging.

Offering the incentive of a healthy treat for all participants, we had several fun quizzes to find out what young peoplBabse knew about counselling and mental health that we did with various little groups of young people throughout the day. At the same time, we conducted some very brief research into how, if they were to have counselling, they might access it.  We asked them if they would prefer face-to-face counselling; group therapy or online counselling (which could take the form of emails, Instant Chat, webcam, or Facetime).  Overwhelmingly they opted for face-to-face counselling, with less than a quarter saying they would use online counselling.

Knowing that they are part of the digital generation and being an online counsellor myself, I was a little surprised at the results. I had expected face-to-face to be the most popular but I had not expected it to be by quite such a large margin.  One concern that was cited was that they didn’t think you could build a trusting relationship with someone you had never met and the other concern was whether it would be secure and confidential enough. Clearly further education about online counselling is needed in my locality.

This set me off wondering how this compared to other parts of the UK.  I found some research which was conducted in 2014 on the government website about young people’s mental health and wellbeing. A couple of points interested me in the report. One prompted me to think about how parents might influence their children’s preferences. The report stated that “Parents have a clear preference for services to be delivered face to face rather than online. 94% of parents would be more confident in a service’s value if it was delivered face to face rather than online.”

Further on in the report some statistics about online resources that have been used by young people state that only 33% of the survey respondents had used online counselling through a chat service.  The report says: “Online services, such as counselling, practical apps to manage mental health and mentoring are used less often, perhaps reflecting some of the concerns about confidentiality and knowing who is providing the support highlighted in discussion groups.”

However, when compared against young people who would consider using online resources if they had not previously used them, the results were more optimistic – 65% would consider online counselling through a chat service.
So some not dissimilar concerns to those we encountered locally but with a slightly more optimistic outlook for online counselling.

There is a lot more to read in the 84 pages of the report and if you are interested and have the time to read it, you can find it here.

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