Many people don’t realise that ordinary (unencrypted) email is quite insecure. If you’re using ordinary email in an office or on a public network (e.g. in a cafe), it’s quite possible for someone else with a bit of specialist knowledge and software to intercept and read your emails.
Often this doesn’t matter, but clearly in online counselling you could be writing about highly private and confidential issues. So for online counselling I use the encrypted email service provided by Hushmail. Before we begin our first exchange of counselling emails, I will let you know my Hushmail address, and you will need to set up a free Hushmail account for yourself.
Of course it’s still important when you’re writing emails for counselling that you find a suitable private space where nobody can look over your shoulder and read what you’re writing, and you should also take other steps to protect your online security, for instance as described on the Skype Security page.
Counselling with email
The great advantage of email, compared with Skype or face-to-face counselling, is that there’s a time delay; you have time to think and edit what you’ve written before sending it, and I have time to read and think about what you’ve written before I respond. So you can write very clearly about your situation and the issues in an email of just a page or two.
But the disadvantage of email is that there are no facial expressions to convey emotions (smile, frown etc.), and if you’re not sure about the meaning, you can’t check it out until you reply. So it’s very easy for misunderstandings to arise, as many people have already discovered.
In order to avoid misunderstandings in email counselling, I always try to be explicit about the emotion and intention behind what I write, and I sometimes use emoticons (“smileys”) to make this clear. And I always ask clients to tell me if they are not happy about anything I’ve written, as this often indicates a misunderstanding that needs to be cleared up.
The practical bits
As mentioned, I will ask you to set up a free Hushmail account before we begin email counselling. And we will also need to agree a day of the week when you would like to receive my emails (and I will need to receive your emails at least two days before this).