After taking part in the 2nd Annual Virtual Conference on Counseling, I have an even greater appreciation for technology and how it can help in work with families.

The workshops that made up the conference were all available either through 2nd life or as a live stream on the internet.  One I attended that really caught my attention was Mediated Relationship Changes, by Katherine Herman and Courtney Holmes. Their presentation dealt with different aspects of family counseling and how it can be approached in new and dynamic ways via technology.

What really intrigued me was the notion of having a family member be part of a session despite the distance between the individual members.  Families that have complicated schedules, frequent traveling or are involved in the military are but a few examples of  families that can take advantage of the flexibility of online counseling. A family session could realistically be carried out through the use of a chat program and a web-cam.   Family members that are unable to physically be at the session due to medical illness or impairment would be present through these technological tools.

One case study Herman and Holmes included proposed ideas for reaching a family communicating almost entirely through text-based mediums – texting on their cell phones or using social networking for keeping up to date with each other. It was interesting to see how therapy is an ever evolving field, using clients’ needs as a guide in tailoring treatment approaches to meet those needs.

What happens in an online family therapy session?

The family meets in a chat session. Each family member is provided a time to meet for the session.  During the session, all are encouraged to share insights.  This could or could not include a video.  The video component might strengthen the sense of connection between the members during the session.   Also, adding a voice component, through the use of a mic, might introduce an auditory dimension, another aspect that could help family members process what is happening during the session. 

Something interesting to note is that technologically based family sessions would be able to reach the younger members of a family in that they are usually the ones that are tech-savvy these days.  Teenagers for instance, sometimes not very enthusiastic in the family counseling process, might be more apt to participate in a session if the session takes place in a way they are familiar with such as chatting, social networking, and texting.

What about a family session in 2nd life? How would your avatar fare in a family counseling session?

Belky Perez Schwartz is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in Coral Gables, Florida – learn more on her website or visit her clinician profile on Breakthrough.com.

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