The virtual couch: employees approve video counselling

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Virtual counselling, through online video programs such as Skype, are becoming increasingly popular, but is it as effective as traditional therapy?

A new survey from Morneau Shepell seems to show it can be. The research looked at a small sample, but directly compared employee experiences across the two options. Under the company’s Shepell∙fgi brand, it examined 136 cases, 68 video counselling and 68 in-person counselling cases.

The study found that:

  • Clients who used video counselling reported high levels of satisfaction, similar to what was reported by those who used in-person counselling;
  • Of all video counselling clients, 17 per cent were age 50 and over, compared to 6 per cent of all in-person counselling clients who were 50 and over;
  • Video counselling was an attractive option for couples' sessions, with 22 per cent of video counselling cases involving couples, compared to only 12 per cent for in-person counselling.

"While some may fear that technology would make the counselling experience impersonal, it is actually through technology that we are able to create the kind of intimate counsellor-client connection that was previously only possible through direct, in-person settings," clinical services and research lead VP Barb Veder said. 

The advantages cited by clients included time factors, reduced travel and convenience. The video counselling sessions also had fewer no-shows and late cancellations.

“People today lead complicated lives, perpetual juggling acts where we have to balance multiple commitments, work demands, and home life. And the logistics of working around all of that can be very challenging,” Veder said. “With video counselling, clients can meet with their counsellor from the comfort of their own home on their own computer.”

An added bonus was allowing multiple participants can join from separate locations, so partners or family members who are separated geographically can still meet with a counsellor together, she added.

EAP Surveys founder Warren Shepell said as mental health and stress issues increased in frequency, employers needed to realize they needed to find ways to help their employees.

“They will see the payoff in productivity and retention and other ways,” he said. “It’s much cheaper to offer online counselling, but I’m not sure the evidence is clear as to whether or not this type of service is valuable. It’s vital for individual employers to ask employees for input. Did they get the service they need? Would they use it again?”

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