Can relational depth be reached in counselling and psychotherapy conducted by video conferencing?


If you’re interested in this question, an in depth doctoral study by Aisling Treanor is available at the University of Roehampton thesis depository. The abstract for the paper is below.

Title: The extent to which relational depth can be reached in online therapy and the factors that facilitate and inhibit that experience: A mixed methods study

Aims: The main objectives of this research was to identify the extent to which relational depth can be experienced in online therapy, the phenomenological nature of that experience and what factors facilitate and inhibit relational depth.

Method: A mixed methods research methodology was employed. Firstly, the responses from 13 participants who completed the Relational Depth Inventory (RDI) and the Relational Depth Frequency Scale (RDF) were analysed using descriptive statistics. This was followed by an in depth interview with seven of those participants to explore their individual experience of relational depth in online therapy. Interviews were semi-structured and data was analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA).

Results: Females experience relational depth in online therapy to a greater extent than males (t (11) =-3.01, p = 0.012). Five out of seven participants stated relational depth could be experienced in online therapy. The experience was described as unforgettable, beyond words and life changing. The factors which participants felt facilitated relational depth in an online setting was the length of time they had been in therapy as well as having a therapist who offered a flexible and professional approach. Additionally, the accessibility, ease and affordability of online therapy as well as the physical distance was found to be a facilitating factor. Factors which were deemed as inhibiting to relational depth were mainly the technical issues which occurred during a session, as well as the distance between issues which occurred during a session, as well as the distance between themselves and their therapist. Finally, participants felt that the lack of non verbal cues was a factor as well as feeling that at times they themselves were a hindrance to the process and that relational depth would only occur if they were willing to take a risk and leap of faith.

Implications for practice: This research may encourage therapists who are sceptical and reluctant to offer online therapy insight into how relational depth can be achieved. It may also encourage therapists who already offer online therapy an understanding about the limitations of this mode of therapy and how they can help optimize the possibility of a relationally deep encounter with their clients. This research also suggests the importance of therapists keeping abreast of digital culture and the need for training organisations to incorporate online therapy teaching in their training programmes.


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