Online counseling: a narrative and critical review of the literature

J Clin Psychol. 2013 Sep;69(9):994-1011. doi: 10.1002/jclp.21974. Epub 2013 Apr 29.


Objective: This article aimed to critically review the literature on online counseling.

Method: Database and hand-searches were made using search terms and eligibility criteria, yielding a total of 123 studies.

Results: The review begins with what characterizes online counseling. Outcome and process research in online counseling is reviewed. Features and cyberbehaviors of online counseling such as anonymity and disinhibition, convenience, time-delay, the loss of social signaling, and writing behavior in cyberspace are discussed. Ethical behavior, professional training, client suitability, and clients' and therapists' attitudes and experiences of online counseling are reviewed.

Conclusion: A growing body of knowledge to date is positive in showing that online counseling can have a similar impact and is capable of replicating the facilitative conditions as face-to-face encounters. A need remains for stronger empirical evidence to establish efficacy and effectiveness and to understand better the unique mediating and facilitative variables.

Keywords: attitudes and experiences; cyberbehaviors; ethics; online counseling; outcomes and process research; suitability and training; therapeutic relationship.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Counseling* / ethics
  • Counseling* / standards
  • Humans
  • Telemedicine* / ethics
  • Telemedicine* / standards
  • Workforce