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This paper presents the reflections on the experience of contacting a Child and Youth Care Practitioner (CYC) and being one in the process of cyber counseling (CC) performed with the help of written messages.
Experience as the Customer
In general, I would say that my ‘CYC’ was amiable, and the aim of CC was achieved by her: she managed “to provide help and information, to facilitate change and strengthen coping skills” (Martin & Stuart, 2011, p. 58). The ‘client’ (myself) sought support as she had issues with self-esteem, getting along with peers, and making friends after moving, and she refused to tell her Mother about it. The CYC has managed to identify every issue and provided support and advice.
There was one point I would like to mention: I noticed that my partner started the communication by using quotes for the word ‘meet’ as if to emphasize the fact that we were not meeting in the ‘real’ life. It did not bother me, but I avoided such quotation marks in my own letters, because, in my opinion, it would hinder the process of creating the feeling of “presence.” As the conversation progressed, my partner also gave up such quotation marks and used phrases like “I hear you saying” without any specific symbols. In my opinion, this is a preferable line of action.
I have to admit, though, that I have been reading the answers repeatedly, and I was not treating them the way a customer would: I was analyzing the techniques my partner had used. There is a chance that I would not have noticed this change from quoting to not quoting verbs of interaction if I were an actual client. Besides, the feeling of ‘presence’ that I typically experience during this kind of cyber-talk was on the usual level. It is useless to insist that this type of communication is identical to a face-to-face meeting, but for an e-mail CC, my ‘CYC’ has managed to achieve the effect of ‘presence’ and convey support.
Also, the possibility of rereading is an advantage of e-mail CC. Martin and Stuart (2011) mention it to point out the possibility of editing and re-editing of the message (p. 59). This feature of e-mail counseling is advantageous for the CYC, but it can also help the clients to understand their problems better. It provides the opportunity to reflect on the feelings and actions, which is beneficial. Naturally, my story was not real, but I believe that a real client could even save the responses and reread them when she felt like it.
Finally, when I was creating my ‘client’ character, I designed her to be shy. In this respect, I would like to point out another advantage of CC, the fact that the youngster is kept in a familiar environment and can even hide behind the screen. Martin and Stuart (2011) point out that many clients are resistant to take up face-to-face counseling and that they tend to feel more protected during CC from the judgments of the CYC (pp. 59, 62). Once again, the experience was not real, but I feel that my character was grateful for this extra protection and safety.
Experience as the CYC
The reactions of the client might have been not completely predictable, but I would not say that they shocked me or left me incapable of tracing them and finding the significant aspects that required attention. In this respect, the possibility of rereading was also helpful. Apart from that, I worked to express sympathy and support, keeping my language conversational and expressing my emotions concerning the information ‘Brooke’ provided.
I am not certain if the experience of my partner will confirm my opinion on the ‘work’ as CYC, but I want to express a couple of ideas. First of all, Unfortunately, I am not certain I used the techniques of ‘presence’ properly: choosing them and using them took me some time and even after ‘sending’ the message I doubted my choice. In particular, the use of emoticons caused noticeable doubts. It appears that every generation has a kind of etiquette: you have to guess or hope that the youngster is open-minded. Secondly, the situation I almost encountered in my case was the neglect of the “terms and rules” part by the youngster.
Thankfully, my partner did agree to them at the end of the letter, but by then I had been wondering how to re-introduce them properly and explain the importance of privacy without making the youngster uncomfortable. Besides, I must say that the constrictions of CC were not exceptionally pleasant to meet. The absence of non-verbal communication was not convenient, and the impossibility of immediate reaction to the answers made me pay particular attention to the planning of the letter. I found myself ‘bombarding’ the girl with questions and wondered if it was too much pressure. Martin and Stuart (2011) assure that inquiry is essential for CC (p. 62). Still, from my personal experience, I know that such an amount of questions is confusing. I have to admit though that the strategy of my partner as CYC was not any different; in fact, it cannot be different. The disadvantage of e-mail CC that I can report is, therefore, the problem of time.
Still, even this feature of e-mail CC has its advantages. My ‘client’ who is a very busy girl (school and professional dancing) must have found the convenience of online CC to be important. She could choose when to write and did not have to waste time traveling. Apart from that, she could also write whenever she needed it, whenever she felt especially alone. These aspects made CC more suitable for her. Also, I still enjoyed the possibility of rereading the messages of the client and re-editing my own ones. As a CYC, to avoid misunderstandings and pay proper attention to the girl’s thoughts and questions I copied them into the letter form and made sure to answer every one of them.
Another positive aspect that comes to my mind is the willingness of the youngster to cooperate. In e-mail CC, there is much less chance of encountering a client who is not really set on solving the problem. That is what I noticed during my experience as a CYC: the ‘client’ seemed to be very determined to deal with the issue. The fact that the person had built up the courage and motivation to write at length about the problem seems to indicate this determination and willingness.
One aspect of CC that was not illustrated by this experience is still worth mentioning. I agree with Martin and Stuart (2011) that there is a possibility of establishing a strong relationship online. It did not and could not happen in the course of a three-message exchange, but it can happen in reality, which is proved by my personal experience. Besides, just as Martin and Stuart (2011) point out, CYC clients are also likely to have such experience and be ready for it (p. 61). This aspect of CC is not really an advantage; instead, I suppose that it is an opportunity and a goal for a CYC.
To sum up, there are many advantages to CC, and some of them are of importance for the CYC while others can help the client. Some of them have been encountered during the CYC experience. Similarly, some of the limitations of this particular type of CC have been noted. As pointed out by Martin and Stuart (2011), CC does not have to be restricted to e-mailing, and some of the disadvantages can be solved by using Skype, for example. At the same time, the specific advantages of this method will also disappear in such a case. The choice of the type of CC, therefore, should depend on every particular situation.
In fact, nowadays it is impossible to avoid using technology in the course of most of our activities. Martin and Stuart (2011) claim that cyberspace is the primary medium of communication for children and youth and, as a result, young people favor CC (pp. 57, 59). Indeed, if the technology provides us with additional opportunities, they should be exploited. Definitely, the cyberspace may introduce new challenges as well, but as Martin and Stuart (2011) point out, the development of new tools and strategies would be expected to help. Since cyberspace is a part of youngsters’ life-space, it needs to be explored and employed to help them (and other users of the Internet). CC is unlikely to be equally useful in every case, but if it is working for a particular person, this type of counseling should not be discriminated against.
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Martin, J., & Stuart, C. (2011). Working with Cyberspace in the Life-Space. Relational Child and Youth Care Practice, 24 (1-2), 55-66. Web.