How Does Email Therapy Work?
Face-to-face therapy doesn't appeal to everyone, and especially in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, most people continue to see their therapist remotely
Therapist Ness Churn explains how email therapy works
You can find therapists offering sessions by video, email and phone here
Time to think
Email counselling works well for people who like space and time to find their words. It can feel less intense, with less pressure in the moment to think and speak of what brings you to therapy.
You may be someone who processes your thoughts and words at a slower pace. You may be someone who enjoys writing more than speaking. You may like the freedom of choosing when to take the time to write your session. You may struggle with expressing emotion in the presence of another.
For people who are uncomfortable with being physically seen by their therapist, email counselling works really well. You can show yourself in a different way without the intensity of eye contact. With writing you have space to choose, to pause, to walk away for a moment or more, to return when you feel ready.
Developing a therapeutic relationship
You explore yourself just as you would in the counselling room, and you have support in doing this. The working relationship with your email therapist develops over time just as it does face-to-face or via video counselling. My responses will encourage further thought, will ask how it feels, will say what I see, in a gentle, encouraging manner.
I’ll keep the focus on you, be an ally, guide you to find the answers that fit for you. I will say if I think you are being hard on yourself. I will encourage you to recognise, accept and express whatever feelings you have.
I will suggest that you look for ways to care for and be kind to yourself. I help you see the choices that you do have. You are still in charge of ‘where we go’, what we focus on, and you may find yourself enabled to say exactly how you feel about the situations and behaviours which are really troubling you.
How we work
We still meet weekly just in a different way. You send your words on our agreed day of the week. You receive my therapeutic response on the day we have arranged (usually two days later). This gives you time to read and reflect before writing the following week’s words.
When we choose to work together using email exchange, I ask that the first email be up to 1000 words long. I explain that you can spend as long as you wish putting your words down. You can write and send, or you can write, walk away, come back, add, consider and then send. We will have agreed in advance a day to send and a day for my response. I will spend an hour writing my detailed response. That’s the reason for the word limit. Of course, you may write more, you may start and not want to stop the flow. That’s ok, keep it all for yourself and choose which of your paragraphs feel most important to share and send. You may find that 500 words is enough and that’s OK too.
For some people, email counselling is a stepping stone preparing the way for face-to-face or video sessions. Others complete their therapeutic journey via the written word appreciating the progress made without ever seeing the face of, or hearing the sound of, their counsellor’s voice.
Most people find that once they sit and start to write, the words flow. The first email might describe your situation or problem and can be cathartic in itself as an outpouring of ‘this is me, this is my life’. It may include ‘this is how I think, and this is how I feel’. There’s no need for correct grammar or fancy words.
Some people are more aware of their thoughts, feelings and behaviours than others. It is my job to be alongside you, the individual that you are, to take in the narrative, to read what you say, also to notice the tone of the email, the feelings behind the words. I won’t assume. I will always be tentative just as I am in speech, ‘it sounds like you feel worried about this, is that right?’ or ‘I’m wondering if you are feeling sad here?’ It becomes a conversation. We become a team looking at you, your world, your choices.
I recommend that we use different colours each week so that we can easily follow the thread of our most recent words. I will label my responses 1, 2, 3 etc.
You can use different fonts and sizes to make a point, you can include drawings, photos, diagrams, anything at all.
Equally you can simply write plainly, there is no right or wrong. We work hard together to make sense of you and your experiences. We can use emojis, we can SHOUT.
You may choose to keep our words forever, as a reminder of what helps you, of your tendencies and how you found your way back to a more balanced, healthy state.
As with any form of counselling, setting boundaries is important. Therapist and client agree a day for emails to be sent and received. We both need to know the ‘rules’, for example you send to me by 6pm on a Monday and I reply by 6pm on a Wednesday. I will use a password protected document for my responses to you, ensuring that only you can read it. I recommend that you choose a quiet, private space, that you give yourself this time as a priority. I ask that you ‘turn up’ for the session just as you would to a physical appointment.
Not for everyone
It’s not for everyone. Some people prefer the art of talking. Some people are simply not interested in or familiar with the concept of writing. Some prefer a phone or video call, others who are not usually confident writers, may be happy as long as we both use the tools that help them read and write well enough to be understood.
Why I like offering email therapy
I am a person who enjoys finding the right words to help each of us to understand ourselves. I find writing absorbing and enlightening. As a person-centred therapist my belief is that the relationship that we develop together is key to change and growth. You need to feel safe and comfortable. You need to trust me. As I read your words, I feel attuned with you, connected in an empathic way, that’s me really getting a sense of how you feel. For the hour that I am ‘with you’, I am completely in your world, working hard to notice what you may not see in order to help you understand yourself well. A weekly email exchange is a powerful way to connect, to be understood, to find the answers that work for you, to thrive.