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How does online counselling work?

After we have received your form, the online administrative staff will contact you by email, outlining the three online counselling options (email, Skype Instant Messaging or Webcam) and asking you to get in touch to state your preference and arrange the initial session.

You will have a counselling exchange once a week, unless you ask specifically for less frequent contact.

Your counsellor will explore your experiences with you, offer support, help you understand your difficulties and reactions better, and/or make changes. They will not tell you what to do, but will try and help you make your own decisions.

The first session will be focused on exploring what you hope to gain from counselling, identifying your inner strengths and ways for you to start to address your difficulties. At this session you and your counsellor will decide for how long you expect to work together. The counselling we offer is short term, so after your initial session, you will be offered from one to four sessions.   


Is online counselling suitable for me?

You do not need to be a technical expert, but you do need to know how to write and receive emails and have good access to a computer. The occasional technical mishap will not prevent your counselling, but if you have regular problems on the computer, face-to-face counselling would be a better option.

You must be able to use your computer without anyone else present and to prevent access to any stored messages.

There are some circumstances where face-to-face counselling may be more beneficial to you.These circumstances are:

  • if you are at a high risk of severely harming yourself or others.
  • if you have a history of severe mental illness.
  • if drugs or alcohol is your main problem.

What are the arrangements for email counselling?

It is important to use a secure email address.  We use the University’s email system which is secure. You will be advised what email address to contact for your counselling.

Your counsellor will respond to your email on an agreed day.


How do I make the best use of email counselling?

Different people find different things useful. Here are some possibilities:

  • Maybe write when you feel strong emotions, because you may find your feelings easier to describe and may find writing is a relief.
  • You may wish to be creative in how you use online counselling, for instance including poetry, song lyrics, links to songs or scanning drawings or pictures in your emails, to help your online counsellor understand you better
  • You may find it helpful to read what you have written and reflect on it before sending the mail
  • Don't hurry when you read your counsellor's response. You may want to read it several times to help you think about what is said.
  • Keep your emails and your counsellor's responses, so you can re-read them and reflect further. You may want to create a separate folder on your computer, or print out the mails. Be careful to keep your records secure, e.g. by password protecting, so others can't read them. Ask INSRV if you are unsure how to do this.


What are the arrangements for counselling by Skype Instant Messaging?

Skype Instant Messaging is a live chat system, where you have a text-based counselling session in real time. You don't need to be familiar with using Skype, although it may help if you are.  Skype automatically encrypts all communication and messages sent through Skype. Click on this link for more information on Skype security Skype encryption.

Your counsellor will give you a specific time for your session. You may have some choice in the time of your session. The initial session will last one and a half hours, with subsequent sessions lasting 50 minutes. You will have 1 session per week.


How do I make the best use of counselling by Skype Instant Messaging?

It often helps to be spontaneous and say what you feel in the present, but stay focused and to the point – remember that text is slower than words and you want your session to be useful. It is helpful to reflect on the session afterwards.

You can keep a message history, so you can go back and re-read your session. Open Skype, on the top tabs click on Tools, then Options at the bottom of the list and click on Privacy, and choose how long you want to ‘Keep History For’.If you keep a history, you must make sure no-one can access it. Do not use an automatic sign in to Skype Instant Messenger, never leave it open on your computer. Ensure your password is not known to anyone, nor easy to guess.

During your sessions, you may want to say a lot in one go. Type a line and then type three dots (...), this tells your counsellor that you haven't finished speaking yet. Press Send. Repeat this every line. Your counsellor can read while you are typing, so it speeds things up. Your counsellor will do the same if they want to say something lengthy.

It is common when messaging to use brief texts like “means?” rather than “what did you mean?” as this speeds things up.

It's also okay to use abbreviations like “u r” for “you are”. If your counsellor doesn't understand, they will ask you. They will only use abbreviations if you do, to make sure you understand them.

Sometimes you may want a silence while you think or take something in. If no-one types for a while, your counsellor will type a dot (.) every few moments, and you can do so too if you like. To let your counsellor know you are reflecting you can also type things like “thinking” or “quiet moment”.

Your counsellor can't see you, so it helps them understand how you are feeling if you tell them!


Can I use smilies, emoticons, text abbreviations, or other inserts?

Yes, if you want to. You may find these helpful in expressing yourself. But if you don't like using such inserts, don't use them.

If you want to use different colours or pictures to express yourself, you can do this. Some people like to attach poems or sayings that have personal meaning. Again, no need to do so! It is fine to just send plain text.

Please note that it is not acceptable to send viruses. If you do, your mails will be blocked by your counsellor's virus protector.


What difficulties might I encounter?

It isn't frequent, but occasionally technical failures occur. If you don't get an expected email reply, email your counsellor again. If still no reply within a day, tell reception by phone (029 2087 4966) or email

If your counsellor isn't online for your Skype appointment, check your emails in case there is a message. If not, email your counsellor. If there is no reply after 10 minutes, contact the counselling reception.

It is important to tell your counsellor your phone number, so that you can be contacted immediately if the counsellor's computer stops working. Please contact reception (029 2087 4966) or if your computer stops working, so that your counsellor can decide with you how to proceed.

In face-to-face meetings, we use body language to help us communicate. We can't do that online, and this means that sometimes there are misunderstandings. It will help minimize this if you always tell your counsellor when you think they have misunderstood you, and let them know how you are feeling about their replies.


What if I feel desperate and in a crisis?

Your counsellor will read your mails on specified days of the week — your counsellor is not contactable by Skype outside your counselling sessions. If you need to contact someone urgently because of how you feel, there are a number of people you could contact

Counselling can be useful after a crisis has resolved, to help you understand what was happening and reduce the chances of it happening again. If you are at risk of harming yourself or someone else, then face-to-face counselling will be the best option.


How secure is online counselling?

No computer system is 100% secure. However, because we ask you to use the University’s secure systems, your counselling is very well protected.

But someone accessing your computer could read your emails or message history unless you take precautions. You can password-protect access to your emails, Skype Instant Messenger, and stored documents. It is advisable to do this for online counselling, because you may say things you haven't told others. If you don't know how to password protect, contact INSRV, and they can tell you how – you don't need to tell them why you want to do this as there are many reasons for password protecting access to computer files. If you prefer, you can ask your counsellor for advice on protecting access.

Your counsellor will have the Skype privacy settings at ‘No History’ and will keep transcripts of the Skype sessions, or email exchanges, password protected on their computer.  These will be permanently deleted six years after you last make contact with the Counselling Service.


Is my counselling confidential?

Yes. Except for the limits outlined below, your counsellor will not divulge information to others without your consent. This includes your family, friends, tutors and doctor, and nothing goes on your student record to say you have accessed the Counselling Service.

Your counsellor will discuss their work with a supervisor, which is normal counselling practice. They may also discuss their work within the small team of counsellors at Cardiff University. The supervisor and other counsellors keep everything confidential.

Your counsellor would only consider breaking confidentiality in the rare circumstances below:

  • if you are at risk of severely hurting yourself or someone else
  • if the law requires it (there are very few circumstances, please ask if you want to know more).

Online counselling is subject to the same level of confidentiality as face-to-face counselling. If you want to know more, refer to our policy on confidentiality.


What if I have a technological problem during my counselling?

If you have a difficulty, please let us know by contacting the counselling reception. Please leave your telephone number, so your counsellor can contact you, and help you decide how best to proceed.


What if I have a complaint?

If you are unhappy with your counselling, it is generally best to tell your counsellor. The most likely problem is a misunderstanding. You and your counsellor may be able to rectify that, and your counselling can proceed.

Should you feel that they have cause for complaint you should write in the first instance to the Head of Counselling who will seek to deal with the matter informally.  He can be contacted through the counselling reception.

If you wish to make a complaint against the Head of Counselling you should in the first instance write to the Director of REGOS who will seek to deal with the matter informally.

Should you wish to follow the University Complaints Procedure you should seek the appropriate section of the University’s Corporate Compliance website, complaints procedure

Your counsellor is bound by the Ethical Framework of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP). If you are unsatisfied with the response from the Head of Counselling, and Director of REGOS, you can contact BACP directly at BACP Complaints. All complaints will be taken seriously.