Flamin’ Nora…and other tales of online disinhibition

One of the holy grails of counselling is the establishment of a ‘therapeutic relationship’.

Simplistically, this is the difficult process of creating the bond of trust between the counsellor and the client(s). Therefore, the client(s) feels comfortable, heard and not judged. The sessions can then go forward in a productive way for the client(s). Until the client(s) reach this point they are unlikely to feel listened to, comfortable and understood. It also follows they are unlikely to risk sharing their true emotions, opinions or own analysis of their behaviour.

Therefore, it was a little confusing to then learn about the phenomena of online disinhibition. The idea is that, due to the unique way in which an online environments impact upon your behaviour, can result in some oversharing of personal information BEFORE a therapeutic relationship has developed. This in turn lead to a kind of embarrassed ‘morning after’ realisation of drunken night before where you have this sudden recall of something you said or did.
Observed common alterations/changes individuals make to their internal/external identity in order to project the desired new or exaggerated characteristic when in a new online environment usually include little appreciation of the consequence of their actions, increased/exaggerated confidence and inflexibility in taking a viewpoint, showing little or no empathy or understanding of another’s position, deliberate offensiveness (‘flaming’) or deliberate misunderstanding due to the semantics of a post. It is also much more difficult to pick up body language, changes in voice tone or facial expressions via Zoom or text.

…And that is why we have emojis – saying ‘you’re an idiot’ can mean an entirely different thing to ‘you’re an idiot  

It follows that counselling online has a different set of behavioural pointers and triggers, and must to a greater extent than’ face-to-face’ counselling relies on honesty and transparency of understanding, or misunderstanding as the case may be!

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