Tips & Tricks

Text Therapy Counseling: How to Build Successful Relationships



Traditionally, counseling meant the client meeting with the counselor in person to receive therapy; this remains a key method today. However, it is no longer the only way to receive treatment. Advances in technology mean that other forms of communication can be used, which no longer require counselor and client to be in the same geographical location. This trend was already gaining pace when it was increased by the COVID-19 pandemic, which meant meeting in person could be unsafe. Telehealth services were frequently used, with sessions between client and counselor taking place over the phone, by video call, or text messaging. While the first two methods use the same, or similar, vocal techniques as might be used in person, text messaging requires a different style to enable the counselor to build the same positive and trusting relationships.

What is Text Therapy Counseling?

Text therapy is sometimes also called online therapy or e-therapy. It uses secure and encrypted digital platforms for clients to communicate with a licensed therapist using online messages. During these sessions, the client can explore their feelings and thoughts in a safe space and receive support from their counselor. The written chats can take place in real-time, or there may be asynchronous messaging where replies can occur within a specific window of time. This allows the conversation to take place at a preferred pace. With no need to make an appointment, it can be a very convenient form of therapy.

Are There Drawbacks?

The nature of digital communication means there may be a time delay in the communication. It also removes the opportunity for the therapist to pick up on non-verbal cues. When speaking in person or via a video link, the therapist can observe expressions and body language. Even if speaking on the phone, there may be changes in tone. However, in text messaging, none of this is possible. There may also be concerns that it is impossible to build up the rapport between client and counselor through text messaging, reducing the effectiveness of the therapy. However, this is not necessarily the case, with many clients reporting good results from text therapy. While this type of therapy is still in its infancy, skilled counselors are already finding ways to build successful relationships with clients that they have only ever ‘met’ through the medium of texts.

Counseling Techniques

If you are interested in becoming a mental health counselor, good counseling techniques are something that will be thoroughly covered during your training, and courses today will go beyond the traditional in-person counselor-client model to ensure that students are competent in all forms of counseling. Master’s degrees in mental health counseling are widely available at universities, both in person and through high-quality online content. A good place to start if you are interested in text therapy counseling is Walsh University. Their online Master of Arts in Counseling and Human Development course includes the ways technology can be used to help others, as well as covering traditional techniques to prepare students for a wide variety of counseling careers.

Once qualified, counselors who work regularly in text therapy will become increasingly proficient in building relationships with their clients. While they will undoubtedly develop their own techniques, there are also some tested ways to build text-based relationships to get the best results for clients.

Communicating From Home

One major advantage text therapy has is its convenience. Clients do not have to wait for an appointment. They are not sitting in a waiting room, becoming increasingly anxious about their session. Nor have they had a long walk in possibly inclement weather, a delayed bus, trouble finding a parking space, or any of the other issues that can arise when traveling, which may mean they start the session feeling flustered.

Instead, they are communicating at a time that is convenient to them, from the comfort of their home or any other place where they feel comfortable. This might be seated in a favorite chair with a hot drink beside them. This means that clients start the counseling session feeling as at ease as possible. There will be none of the natural nervousness of being in an unfamiliar environment that can hinder communication. Instead, they will feel more in control, which is likely to help them feel more comfortable in opening up.

This can be particularly beneficial for those whose mental health difficulties make them feel nervous about leaving the home. This can be a particular issue if they have to travel some distance for counseling and to a place that, initially at least, is unfamiliar to them. While counselors are skilled at putting people at ease, this anxiety can make initial in-person sessions not as productive as they could be if the client was more relaxed. Online methods can allow the client to feel comfortable opening up and working through their feelings straight away.


While it is unfair and unjustified, there remains a stigma around mental health issues that makes many people feel unwilling to seek help and uncomfortable when they do so. The anonymous nature of text-counseling means that many people access therapy who might not otherwise have done so, or they access it at an earlier point, helping them to prevent their condition from worsening.

This anonymity may make clients more willing to open up about their feelings or ask questions that they would feel foolish asking in person. For many, a more anonymous relationship is an advantage and can be all the stronger for it.

Make a Plan

Counselors can start to build a strong relationship by conducting the sessions with the same professionalism as they would in person. Time spent messaging about expectations for a session is time well spent, as many clients will feel more confident in their therapist when they see that they have a clear plan.

The plan should also cover unexpected interruptions. For example, in the event of losing connectivity and the session being interrupted, plan in advance who is responsible for reconnecting. If a client is clear about how the sessions work, they will feel more comfortable in building a rapport with their online therapist.

Be Comfortable With Gaps

In face-to-face conversation, pauses can be awkward, with both sides feeling a need to fill the silence. However, in text conversations, gaps feel normal, and a good text therapist will make sure both they and their client do not feel the need to fill a pause. The advantage of this is that the client is able to fully process the message and take time to articulate their own thoughts in reply. The therapist, too, has the time to consider the information given and formulate an effective response. This can lead to the client feeling they have been fully understood, which can, in turn, lead to them feeling more comfortable.

Support Between Sessions

In face-to-face counseling sessions, the client attends their scheduled appointment but then may have little or no contact until the next session. This may lead to them feeling isolated. Text counseling may involve regular sessions in real time, but it is a good idea for your clients to be able to contact you at any time without the expectation of an instant reply. This allows them to ask for a quick bit of advice, or share meeting a goal, or simply to check in. The idea of knowing there is always someone to contact can be comforting for anyone who has little or no real-life support. Counselors who generally work face-to-face could well consider adding this asynchronous communication into their counseling service to deliver the same benefits.

The counselor can also use this facility to make contact with their clients. This may take the form of sending questionnaires and worksheets or any resources or research they come across that they think will be of interest. This increase in communication will further strengthen the client-counselor relationship.

Combine Methods if Necessary

Many text counseling services will also have the option of a video or voice call. As discussed earlier, counselors who work face-to-face with clients can also incorporate the benefits of text counseling into their services. One of the most important ways to build a successful relationship with a client is to treat them as an individual, and this means that there can be no ‘one size fits all’ approach.

Make sure your client is aware of all the options, with the pros and cons of each one. The client can then agree the best approach with the counselor, tweaking it as necessary. It may be, for example, that a once-a-week video call with asynchronous text messaging between sessions will work best for one client, while another client is most comfortable communicating entirely via text messaging to start with but, after a number of sessions, feels they have built up a strong enough relationship to relax their anonymity for an occasional voice call.

There is no single best method of counseling. Different clients in different circumstances with different reasons for seeking support will require different approaches. However, text counseling should not be considered an inferior form of counseling. With the right approach, text counseling can be very effective at building a highly successful client-counselor relationship.


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