The app is open. I am logged in. Now I wait.

I bounce my leg under my desk and tap my pen impatiently. You would think this was my first time talking to a someone through Zoom, let alone a counseling client.

Lights. Camera. Action. The counselee signs on, I add him to the room, and boom, we’re “live.” What could possibly go wrong now?

For some odd reason, counseling through a screen can create more anxiety for me at the start of a session than when a client walks through my door for an in-person session. Perhaps it is the camera, the microphone, the lighting, or the cold start of the face-to-face conversation without any warm-up. It could be that I am virtually entering their world, and they are entering mine with the click of a button. Perhaps that has been your experience with it as well.

Cameras can make us feel vulnerable—watched—aas if we’ve been teleported to some planet where we’ve never been before. Now counsel! we tell ourselves, all while trying to act natural as we overcome the distractions and feelings of something that actually is not natural: Can we build rapport with our counselees and bring them hope through a screen?

These were the thoughts I had when I first began counseling virtually. Is this as good an option as in-person counseling? Will this technology hinder or help the counseling experience? If Jesus was here, would He use Zoom?

As a biblical counselor, you know the importance of the rapport between you and your counselee. Maybe you are also concerned that virtual biblical counseling will not provide the same healing encouragement for someone staring at a screen as someone in your office. This is a valid concern that shows your level of care.

But I believe that—when you go about it with great intentionality—you can cultivate nearly the same level of trust and connection in a virtual meeting as in an in-person setting.

You may wonder, But what about the counselee’s tone of voice, body language, and overall countenance, which are sometimes needed to determine what is really going on and how to help? I get it: Only seeing someone’s head and shoulders is not the same as seeing their whole body, their tapping foot, their slouchy posture, or their nervous hands. Yet most of a person’s feelings are expressed through their face and eyes. Scripture speaks to discerning a person’s countenance through the face when it says, “A joyful heart makes a cheerful face, but when the heart is sad, the spirit is broken” (Proverbs 15:13).  

We also know that out of the heart, the mouth speaks (Matthew 12:34). Even though we may be missing some cues without being able to see a person’s whole body, I estimate it’s only about 10 percent of the helpful information. That means we have more than enough data to use as we rely upon the Holy Spirit to help us discern the matters of the heart and minister the Word to our counselees.

The Weaknesses May Be Overcome by Strengths

The initial reaction to virtual counseling often generates questions such as, “How do I make this work?” and “What will happen?” Counselors may be concerned about coming across as too clinical, not as caring, having less empathy, or not building a proper relationship with the counselee.

It may be best to begin by thinking about the advantages that virtual counseling can provide over in-person counseling. The counselees may be most comfortable at home, in their own space, which allows them to feel safe and uninhibited, especially when first meeting with you. The convenience of virtual counseling offers numerous other valuable benefits, such as:

  • No commuting, for them or you
  • A precise timer for the call
  • Quick access to resources and diagrams that can be screen-shared
  • Ease of recording if needed
  • Fewer cancellations due to weather, transportation issues, or sickness
  • The ability to meet across time zones and geographical differences

Online solutions give both the counselor and counselee a time-saving option by not having to contend with a long drive, traffic snarls, or vehicle breakdowns. Counseling starts more smoothly when no one is stressed just from the commute.

Hurried Counseling Often Leads to Failed Counseling

I also find that my virtual biblical counseling is less rushed. While I subscribe to short-term goal-based counseling, we must take adequate time to uncover the deep issues in a person’s life. When we gain greater understanding, we can offer wisdom from God’s Word and advice for life application that leads to lasting change. I can schedule counseling over Zoom or FaceTime and use the extra time that would otherwise go to my commute to wrap a session well and have extended meaningful prayer with my counselee.

Hospitality is a Key to Showing the Love of Christ

When I meet with a person on a screen, I treat it as an in-person session. I tell the person what the room is like that I am in, that the door is closed, and the standards of conduct related to confidentiality are being upheld. I even tell them what is on my desk—my Bible, notes, and a good cup of pour-over coffee. I ensure the background noise is minimal and all distractions are removed. I never use a wallpaper background because I want them to feel like they are in the room with me; nothing is hiding behind a digital veil. I make sure they feel as comfortable and natural as if they were with me in the office. I have spent considerable time ensuring that my software, microphone, camera, and lighting are the best they can be.

Hospitality is a key to Christianity and must not be neglected in our in-person or virtual counseling. The call of an elder, deacon and Christian is to be hospitable (Hebrews 12:2; 1 Peter 4:9, Titus 1:8). As biblical counselors, we must uphold this calling by providing a safe and warm place to meet, whether in person or virtually.

Through excellent virtual biblical counseling, we are providing a selfless and comfortable way for our counselees to meet us and experience Christ and His truth through our ministry. 

Our goal is to show the love of Christ to the counselee. By paying close attention to the environment we create, virtual meetings are another avenue the Holy Spirit can use to speak, unhindered, to those we seek to serve.

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