Online counselling

‘Click here for counselling?’ Sounds confusing? If you’re thinking of trying online counselling or CBT, here’s what you need to know.

girl on computer

All you need is internet connection.

What is online counselling?

Basically, it’s counselling or therapy you access through your computer. You chat to your counsellor through online messaging, Skype or email.

Why is it useful? Well, if you live miles away from any counsellors, struggle going outside, or like the idea of getting help in your own home, then it’s a flexible alternative. Some people find it’s a good first step towards face-to-face counselling too.

You can also do Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) programs online – either by yourself or with support from your GP.

What sort of online counselling can I get?

Online self-help programs

These are a bit like an online game that helps you understand your thoughts, feelings and behaviours. They aim to give you practical life skills to help you cope better through watching cartoons, listening to podcasts and completing activities and homework. These are best for people with mild to moderate depression or anxiety.

Programs without prescription

Some online programs are open to everyone, at anytime. Moodgym and Living Life to the Full are the most reputable. They’re a good introduction to CBT and what it’s about, but if you feel you need more support, then speak to your GP.

Programs prescribed by your GP

Some programs are only accessible with a referral from your GP. They’ll help you sign up and should be available to chat to throughout the course; they might also be sent updates on your progress. Fear Fighter and Beating the Blues are both NHS approved (you can also buy access to Beating the Blues).

Talking to a counsellor online

If you want support from an actual person, you can use services that offer counselling through online chat, email or Skype. Most of them are self-referral, so you don’t have to go through your GP.

Services for everyone

Childline provides online counselling. You can just drop in when you’re feeling low, or organise regular sessions.

Services where you live

Lots of online counselling is paid for by local NHS or local youth services so, depending on where you live you can access great services like Kooth, Big White Wall and Streetwise.

Usually, they’ll assess you first to decide what you need; then you should be given a named counsellor. Some will let you try different people before you decide on which counsellor you like best.

Getting private counselling online

Lots of private counsellors and therapists offer their services through webcam. It’s designed to replicate face-to-face sessions as much as possible. Search for private counsellors who offer online services at It’s Good to Talk.

Does online counselling work?

Lots of young people say they found it helped them. It might give you new coping strategies or just the space to explore and understand your feelings better. It can be easier to access regularly and you might feel more able to open up online.

“It really helped me,” says Laura. “I found it easier because it wasn’t in person and I didn’t feel pressured or rushed to talk.”

How do I get it? Is it on the NHS? Is it free?

Most online counselling is provided by charities or paid for by the NHS. This means it’s usually free for you, unless you go private.

To start online self-help programs and open counselling services, it’s usually as easy as going to the website and signing up.

Prescribed programs are only available in some areas; ask your GP if you can access them. You can sign up to most from home – though you’ll probably need to tell them where you live so they can check they have services in that area.

If you’re not sure what’s available around you, ask your GP.

How do I know I can trust the website?

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has endorsed Fear Fighter and Beat the Blues for use in the NHS. This means they know it’s a good treatment option for some people. In general, if your GP or a support worker has referred you, then you can trust it.

If you’re not sure, Elaine from Xenzone, an online counselling service, says it’s important to check you can get ongoing support. And check if they’re members of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP). If something seems a bit weird, stay away and have a look at some of the ones we’ve suggested.

What if online counselling doesn’t work?

First, check you’re really focused on what you’re doing. Are you alert during the sessions? Are you doing them regularly? Are you giving them all your attention? If not, then they’re not going to be as useful as they could be.

If you’re trying really hard but it still isn’t working, don’t despair. Not all types of therapy works for everyone; sometimes you have to try out different tools to get the best help. If you’ve got a named counsellor, let them know. Some will work with offline services to help you get additional support. If not, go to your GP.

Next Steps

  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

By Clare Foster

Updated on 29-Sep-2015