Defining New Standards for Online Counseling


There is much debate as to the use of the Internet by college counselors to provide counseling services through e-mail, chat rooms, and/or audio and video teleconferencing. Many reports have shown that this debate is prompted by the lack of regulations and professional standards for online counseling. The major concerns continue to be security, confidentiality, financial and computer support, and ethical standards. These issues continue to be debated on both campuses with online counseling and those currently not offering the service. Some professional associations like the American Counseling Association stated that "Professional counselors ensure that clients are provided sufficient information to adequately address and explain the limitations of (i) computer technology in the counseling process in general and (ii) the difficulties of ensuring complete client confidentiality of information transmitted through electronic communications over the Internet through on-line counseling." The counseling and library faculty Issues committee, between 1995 and 1997, with Sally Flotho, (Golden West College) and Rich Rose (Santa Rosa Junior College) as Chairs wrote the Standards of Practice for California Community College Counseling Programs paper of the Academic Senate. Later under the chairmanship of Dan Crump the same committee was directed by (Resolution 8.01 F99) to develop "clear definitions and guidelines for web advising, including issues such as legal issues, student confidentiality, and ethics, for counseling faculty."

To that purpose, the Senate's Counseling and Library Faculty Issues Committee (CLFIC) sent out an online survey to assess online counseling and/or advising to each community college counseling department.

The survey defined counseling services as "services provided by counseling faculty that included assessment of students' academic abilities, disabilities, strengths and weaknesses; help in clarifying academic goals and selecting a major; educational planning for transfer, associate degrees and certificate programs; referral to other support services when indicated; intervention when students' academic performance is at risk; and follow-up (e.g. academic mentoring, early alert processes, and probation counseling)."

The Title 5 (California Code of Regulations) definition of the role of counseling faculty reiterates the critical responsibility of the counselor to support student success in such areas as student self-assessment, decision-making, goal setting, and goal implementation. advising, on the other hand, "focuses on giving students the information they need to reach their stated goals. Advisors explain and clarify this information for students and present their material in a manner sympathetic to the needs and situation of the student. Advising responds to student requests for discipline-specific information."

So, to that end two questions still remain unanswered and may cause the greatest concern. First, what services constitute online counseling and who should provide the service? Secondly, is online counseling really counseling? Or is it a form of advising? The current CLFIC will be bringing together counseling faculty and other counseling groups to assist in revising the paper, Standards of Practice for California Community College Counseling Programs. The revised paper will include "online counseling" as a service component of a counseling department.