The use of modern digital technology has transformed all areas of contemporary life in recent years. Perhaps most significantly affected are those practices and disciplines relating to communication. As such, it should come as no surprise that the fields of education and counseling are among those that the application of technology has improved. In particular, new technological innovations have benefited how counseling can be taught.
Communications technology can encompass all iterations of the telephone, from its analog origins to the pocket personal computer of today. However, it also includes the internet, email, apps, and video conferencing networks like Skype or Zoom. All these methods, and others, have been used to make communication between people faster, more inclusive, versatile, and more far-reaching. Today, it’s possible to communicate instantly with individuals almost anywhere from virtually any other point on the globe, something that would have been inconceivable to previous generations.
Techniques and information
Communication lies at the heart of both education and counseling. In the former, the transmission of ideas and concepts is the focus, as information is passed on and new syntheses are developed. In counseling, the client is helped to express their emotions and to go into their personal history. At the same time, the counselor attempts to communicate techniques whereby suffering can be alleviated and the client can best achieve their goals for the session.
When counseling is taught, students must learn about the history and theories underpinning practice and how to proceed as modern practitioners in the digital age. Thus, technology provides both tools for learning and a process or instrument to be known. By the end of the course, the counseling student will have used digital communications technology to absorb information and will be confident in using similar technology as part of their professional counseling practice.
One of the greatest technological resources of today’s world for students and counseling clients alike is the ability to connect online. Lectures can be streamed or watched in real-time by large numbers of students, potentially from anywhere in the world, though in most cases, they will be watching from their own homes.
Attending lectures remotely via a video conferencing app means that students can ask questions and interact with the lecturer as the class happens or immediately afterward. The additional advantage is that the address can be recorded and rewatched in part or full. It can also be automatically transcribed; in some cases, further study notes or other resources may be made available to students online via the cloud.
The same technology can also be used for counseling sessions, either one-to-one or with multiple participants, in an online version of group or family therapy. Walsh University Online has cited how technology has changed counseling, and its fully online Master of Arts in Counselling and Human Development program takes the role of advancing tech into account. The program will equip you with the technical skills required to launch your career as an independent licensed practitioner.
Telehealth and virtual learning
For various reasons, not everyone can access mental health resources in person. Similarly, not everyone wishing to study can attend classes at a specific time and place. In both cases, the following reasons might apply:
- Geographic disadvantage – Individuals living in remote or rural areas might not easily get to a university or a counseling facility. This service might not be available within traveling distance, even if the individual uses a personal vehicle, such as a car, or access to suitable public transport.
- Clashing schedules – If the individual is working full-time, raising a family, or acting as a primary caregiver for a relative or friend, they may be unable to make regular appointments at specified times.
- Social anxiety – Not everyone is comfortable meeting people outside their homes. They may dislike travel, large crowds, interacting with strangers, or dealing with authority. This is particularly relevant to those needing counseling, but many students may find that a classroom or lecture hall setting isn’t conducive to learning for them.
- Depression – Individuals seeking counseling for severe depression may be unable to leave their homes at certain times or even get out of bed. Depression can also afflict students, often without warning, making it hard to attend classes and lectures on time.
- Illness and disability – Physically disabled individuals, including those whose sight or hearing is impaired, and those suffering from a range of illnesses, may find virtual learning and counseling easier to access. Those vulnerable to infection and choosing to avoid crowded public places may similarly benefit.
Teaching counseling using technology
Distance learning and online education have meant that more people than ever before have access to higher levels of education and can achieve life-changing qualifications. In the case of counseling, more individuals are entering the profession to meet the growing demand from society, becoming more aware of the value of good mental health. As life becomes increasingly stressful, the benefits of counseling are more apparent than ever.
The greater accessibility enabled by technology also means that a more diverse range of individuals can study to become counselors. Counselors must come from diverse backgrounds in class, ethnicity, gender, age, and sexuality. This will help them better empathize with their clients, who are more likely to find a counselor they are comfortable talking to and who they feel will understand their problems.
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, the next generation of counselors must be confident and comfortable using technology in their work. This will include offering sessions via text, email, or video conferencing and using various apps and mental health trackers. By teaching counseling in a way that fully uses modern technology, course leaders can best prepare their students for the reality of counseling practice in today’s world.