What is e-Counseling?
J.E. Rose, Director of Fortress Institute
When I went back to grad school in 2005 to get my counseling degree and license, though online counseling was being practiced by some mental health professionals, it was nonetheless a kind of fringe alternative that did not get serious attention in any of my training. If it was mentioned at all, it was brushed aside as undesirable and ineffective. I would have thought so too for the next 15 years. And then, in 2020, all that began to change as the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic shut down all our counseling practices and left my clients emotionally stranded. During the shutdown I began to do serious research on e-counseling itself, including the challenges of secure, confidential information technology, but also the ethical and practical issues. I've addressed some of that in a whitepaper entitled, 5 Reasons You Probably Don't Want Online Counseling. I'll be the first (well, maybe not the first!) to admit that I wouldn't want online counseling myself if I had other options. But, for ministers especially, e-counseling may be the only way to get the help they need, especially given the unique and specialized nature of clergy care. Let me also say a word about the difference between e-counseling and e-coaching. Licensed professional counselors are legally restricted in offering counseling services across state lines. We are not permitted to offer online counseling outside the licensing state. Though many mental health professionals believe the restrictions are antiquated and a relic of an older time, that doesn't change the reality. For this reason, those who desire services from other states must follow different enrollment procedures and the sessions will be structured differently to reflect those restrictions. We call it a "coaching" service and I describe it in detail elsewhere.
If you are considering e-counseling, you no doubt have many questions and assumptions like I did. I've tried to address many of them here. As always, if you have concerns not addressed, I encourage you to contact me directly. If you decide to go ahead with e-counseling, you will need to complete the counseling contract and consent forms and return them before your first session.
The Fortress e-Counseling Process
All counseling, whether traditional or online, requires a carefully designed process from beginning to end. Experts sometimes call the larger framework for this process the "therapeutic alliance." In a classic study by Bordin, he suggested that the alliance consists of three essential elements: 1.) shared beliefs about the goals, 2.) agreement about treatment methods to achieve them, 3.) and a bond of trust between them.
At Fortress Christian Counseling and Institute we have developed specific procedures to build the therapeutic alliance on an online context. Beliefs and goals are disclosed, discussed and evaluated in each online session; we strive for a high degree of transparency in treatment methods and theoretical assumptions that initiate them. The third component--trust--is probably the most difficult of all. We describe it as a "trust bridge" that must be built between counselor and client. Like an old wooden bridge, the individual planks must be built one at a time. Over all, the therapeutic alliance is what Christian Care is all about. We have specific resources to describe the process in detail.
The Fortress e-Counseling Weekly Experience
If you have never met with a counselor or therapist, even if you have been in the other seat as the caregiver for someone, it is likely to be a stressful even frightening prospect. There are many reasons, not least of which is the idea of sharing our deepest thoughts and feelings with a stranger. In an online format, this can seem even more daunting.
We are very sensitive to the challenges and work diligently to make the e-counseling experience itself as accessible and peaceful as possible. A typical 45 minute online session is structured as follows:
The Digital Handshake - Depending on your experience with computer technologies, the "digital handshake" may take more or less time. Simply, it involves connecting to each other with the technologies. For those who struggle with such things, we typically establish a telephone connection first and then, while on the voice call, talk through the handshake process to insure a secure, stable connection.
Greetings - It is often desirable to spend a few minutes in friendly, casual conversation before the more serious matters are explored.
Weekly Updates - We believe that counselors must "show how much they care" before our clients will "care how much they know." Therefore, during the weekly we primarily listen and learn. You may see us taking notes but don't be alarmed or suspicious! It's our way of actively listening on all levels: heart, mind and strength.
Resource Discussion - We almost always utilize written resources in our counseling and consulting services. They are available for purchase in the Fortress e-Learning Store and are designed to support and detail the specific strategies for care. Our primary resource for e-Learning is called Peace in the Storm: God's Step Program for Minister's in the Storm. It is a ten step series, including biblically-grounded, neuroscientifically-tested strategies for peace.
Assignments - The e-Learning resources are designed with practical assignments each lesson and those are often discussed and reviewed as well. Don't think of the assignments as school tests or mere busy work! They are not intended to see how smart you are or how good your memory is. They are to help put the lessons into practice in your life right now.
Prayer - As a Christian service, Fortress e-Counseling and Consulting we place a high value on prayer and will generally conclude each session with specific prayer.