All of us feel psychological distress at some point as Allah places trials in our lives. There are many benefits that we can gain from overcoming trials and being patient in times of adversity. Getting over such hurdles can be a real challenge and people often need support to do so, be it from friends and family, or via psychological services, such as counselling. Either way is perfectly acceptable in Islam.
As the stigma towards mental health in the Muslim community is addressed, we are becoming more and more comfortable to accept mental health issues and are more willing to seek counselling services. There are many forms of counselling available to choose from, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), person centered therapy and psychodynamic therapy, to name a few. Furthermore, with technologies advancing, we also see these services now available online too, via email or Skype for example.
Here, we explore the differences and benefits of seeking face-to-face versus online counselling.
Face-to-face counselling takes place within a clinic, either via private referral or via public national health services where available.
Building a rapport
Physically being in the presence of the counselor makes it easier to build a rapport. If a good rapport is built, then it makes it easier to disclose difficult emotions.
Response is immediate
The client receives immediate feedback from the counselor as they undergo transactions with each other. Therefore, face-to-face counselling can be good for more intense issues that require this immediate response.
Face-to-face counselling can make it easier to address issues that require more intensive support that may need to be delivered within an institution, for example.
Working through written tasks/assessments together
Counselling commonly will require some form of assessment. In face-to-face counselling, this can be completed together and the client can ask any questions as needed. Likewise, clients might be required or invited to do some form of written task. In face-to-face counselling, it is easier to work through such a task together.
A safe space away from where the difficulties are:
If for example, the client is facing difficulties at home, then attending a clinic to receive counselling provides them with a safe space to disclose any difficult emotions away from where difficulties are taking place and away from where others may hear, so there is an added feeling over confidentiality in the transaction.
Non-verbal interaction can say a lot more than actual words can. In face-to-face counselling, the client and the counselor can read more into the way each other is feeling about the situation. The client may feel more understood and encouraged with the inclusion of social cues such as smiling.
Online counselling takes place either by email transactions or via Skype (or similar).
Whilst the stigma towards mental health in the Muslim community is being addressed, it still exists to a great extent in some communities. Receiving counselling online means that no one has to know, not even family.
Due to the stigma around mental health, some people might feel embarrassed to seek counselling. They may also be embarrassed because it is a seemingly small matter. Or, they may just be embarrassed to share problems that they are having. Online counselling provides the space to seek counselling in a way that avoids highlighting the aspect of the problem that creates this embarrassment and provides a comfortable means of coming forward to seek support and assistance.
No one has to know who the client is, not even the counselor. It is not required for the counselor to even know the client’s name. It is only necessary to know the given problem and necessary background information. For us as Muslims, this can be really useful, because it means that we overcome the issue of gender mixing because it is possible for a female to counsel a male and visa versa without knowing, since these kind of details remain anonymous. However, some people may have specific issues that are gender specific and in which case, are able to request a male or female counselor.
No one else has to know, even family, as the client is not required to attend a clinic to avail the counselling services. They can just be sitting in the privacy of their own home typing an email to their counsellor.
Get a feeling for the process
For those who have never had counselling before, for whatever reason; stigma, embarrassment, etc., online counselling can be a good way to get a feel of what counselling is all about. They may then feel more comfortable to seek face-to-face counselling if they would prefer or continue with online counselling if this is preferable.
Can take place anywhere
Online counselling can take place anywhere that there is an internet connection. It can be conducted in the privacy of the client’s own home, or even outside somewhere peaceful. The benefit of conducting counselling in the environment where the client resides, or will be implementing the new skills they learn can be more useful than learning them outside of the environment where they are implemented. Tackling and addressing difficult emotions that the client is facing within the environment than they are, such as the home, can make for more effective recovery.
Can do it anytime
There is no need to wait for an appointment. The client can send an email and read an email response from their counselor at their own convenience. This could be especially useful for people who work and are not able to attend a clinic during working hours.
The client can have the time to think clearly about what they want to say before they write it in an email. If they are unhappy with the way it’s written or expressed, they can hit delete and rewrite it before submitting it to the counselor. Likewise, if they feel the need to get something off their chest and share some difficult thoughts in the moment, online counselling gives them the space as they can compile and send an email immediately without waiting for an appointment and attending a clinic.
Access in rural settings
For people who live rurally, or a distance from counselling services, online counselling provides a resource where physical attendance is not necessary and therefore, transportation issues are avoided altogether. Additionally, the sisters need not worry about having to organize a time when they have a mahram available to accompany them.
Overall, face-to-face counselling gives the space for a more warm environment to perhaps tackle more intensive problems, whereas online counselling is a convenient way to provide an introduction into the world of counselling and can be beneficial for issues that require less intensive support as well as for people who have access issues and problems with stigma or embarrassment.
Both approaches to counselling have their strengths and weaknesses and can be suitable for different people depending on their individual needs, preferences and circumstances that may determine which type of counselling they seek.
The IOU offers an online Islamic Counselling Service that is available to everyone.
Further information can be found here: http://islamiconlineuniversity.com/counseling/counsel.php