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Distance Counselling Practices in Greece today
Technological advances could not leave unaffected fields which we consider more “humanistic” or “theoretical”. As the interest of the field of Counseling shifts to efforts to provide consulting services through new technologies, this opens up new paths and highlights the breadth of application and adaptability of its practices, according to the needs that are constantly generated.
The purpose of this study is to describe the emergence of the role of e-counseling and the issues / dilemmas posed through its application.
Finally, the reference to e-counseling practices currently applied in Greece is very important.
Ouzounoglou Chara1, Rakatzi Lina2, Serleti Maria3and Kougioumtzis Georgios4
1 Ouzounoglou Chara, Εlectronic Εngineer, Specialization Program in Counseling & Guidance. Email:
2 Rakatzi Lina, Early Childhood Educator, Specialization Program in Counseling & Guidance. Email:
3 Serleti Maria, Social Anthropologist, Specialization Program in Counseling & Guidance. Email:
4 Kougioumtzis Georgios A., Ph.D., M.Ed., Scientific Associate at NKUA & ASPAITE (Specialization Program in Counseling & Guidance). Email:
The increasing speed of social change calls for modern man to cope with a multitude of requirements, which often exceeds even him.
Counseling can be in many cases the tool to solve difficulties that impede individual and collective balance.
The dynamic development of this scientific field answers the questions constantly raised, but at the same time it creates new issues. This complexity and implementation in most areas of human activity that counseling holds, is also proven by the difficulty to attribute a universal definition.
The term counseling etymologically derives from the verb counsel (late 13c., from Old French conseiller “to advise, counsel”, from Latin consiliari, from consilium “plan, opinion”) and the suffix –ing (counseling “giving professional advice on social or psychological problems”, which dates from 1940).
According to the Greek Advisory Company, the term counseling means “the process of interaction between a consultant and a person or persons who address him which touches at social, cultural, socio-economic and emotional issues.
The overall objective of Counseling is to give people opportunities to work out issues of concern in order to live a- at their discretion- more efficient and multifaceted life, personally and as members of a wider society” (http: // hac.com.gr).
Counseling has made its appearance in Greece recently, in the early 1950s, when the Ministry of Labor and Education, introduced vocational guidance in the country (Malikiosi-Loizou, 2011).
Of particular interest is the attempt to provide Counseling services with the help of new technologies, which breaks new ground in the field of counseling, highlighting the breadth of applicability and adaptability of its practices, based on the needs that are constantly reformed (Radzi et al., 2014; Reese, Conoley & Brossart, 2006 & 2002).
Although the importance of e-counseling is considered as great and probably more facilitating to many because of the expanded use of new technologies by a large part of the population, however, its application is appropriate in specific cases and with clear limitations.
The aim of this study is to describe the role of e-counseling – as a subset of counseling – in Greece today and the prospects that exist for consultants and consultees.
The beginnings of distance counseling practices
Distance Counseling Practices made there appearance in Europe about 45 years ago, where we find the first help service by phone in Belgium in 1959 (Malikiosi-Loizou, 1999).
The concept focuses on providing Counseling services, when face to face communication is not feasible.
Telecommunications technology and the Internet (e-mail, video conferencing systems, chat, forums, and bulletin boards) are used for e-counseling.
Distance Counselling Practices (E-Counselling) – in a broader sense, may also be related to tutoring, guidance and preparation work, supervision of student work and general educational interaction as well as distance learning (e-learning).
The aim of e-counselling is to support people who either cannot address a counselor face to face, or because of easier access to electronic media they turn to distance communication.
These days, an intensive effort to create and operate as many as possible websites is being carried out. These websites will be fully updated and organized to meet the increasing needs of people searching for counseling (Richards & Viganó, 2013; Zur, 2012; van Balen, Verdurmen & Ketting, 2001).
Recent years have seen increasing interest in these forms of counseling, which led to the establishment of relevant scientific bodies and to the issuing of directives and rules, which ought to govern the process.
These rules are based on the same ethical principles of ‘conventional’ counseling, while trying to meet the needs arising by the use of new technologies and their introduction in the counseling process (Dimitropoulos, 2006).
Traits of counseling
E-counseling is governed by basic characteristics of traditional counseling:
Formation of a relationship of trust, emotional security and support.
Encouraging enhancement of skills by experienced people.
Free flowing communication and correct information.
Clear definition of the parameters of the Counseling relationship.
Organization and management of the counseling relationships by supervising experts (Savranidis, Paleologou & Geronimaki, 2003).
- Characteristics of Distance Counselling Practices
Distance Counseling Practices [E-Counselling] are governed by these basic characteristics of traditional counseling:
Providing a relationship of tolerance on the part of the counselor, which allows the consultee to understand himself to such an extent as to follow a new path.
Strengthening students’ skills by scientifically trained staff.
A clear framework of the parameters of the Counseling relationship, which is only exercised with the will of the individuals.
Obtaining and maintaining self-awareness of the consultee and the establishment of limits in accordance with the general socio-cultural framework where he lives.
The role of an e-counselor as a listener-reader who responds sympathetically to the consultees’ work makes a difference in terms of the contribution of e-counseling in Institutions using e-learning software.
E-counseling tools have various characteristics:
Possibility to communicate in large numbers (group communication).
Communication from any PC with Internet connection, and thus possibility of independence from the limiting factor of distance.
Asynchronous communication, hence sufficient independence from time commitments, with consequent ease of communication.
Predominantly written text communication (enriched with the use of multimedia).
Communication based on PC s or in some cases by phone. In any case the context of the nature of the interaction between tele-consultants and consultee always has to be clear.
Possible weaknesses of Distance Counseling Practices
Of course, despite reasonable benefits from the practice of e-counseling we need to identify the problems / disadvantages that may arise in e-counseling programs, such as:
Misunderstanding problems during electronic communication. Exclusion of technologically illiterate people from the use of e-counseling.
Technical problems with internet connection, connection speed, software.
Privacy assurance issues (Savranidis et al., 2003).
Technical issues of Distance Counselling Practice [e-counseling]
The basic internet tools which can support several implementations of e-counseling relations between counselors and consultees are:
- Discussion groups.
- Systems with bulletin boards
A corresponding tool to develop materials and e-counseling services is development of the web with auxiliary tools of multimedia support and strong interaction (e.g. java, asp). For example:
An “ask an expert” service, to answer any student questions and needs.
Support from a personal e-counselor, with communication that is not made public on the internet and with a time frame of cooperation.
Support from an e-counselor or counselors in the framework of a support student group who share common questions or problems.
Chat service provision through java for on-line communication between students and e-counselors and among students.
Filling in on-line questionnaires (in html, asp and java) or psychometric tests or processing Database (matching interests with existing jobs).
Besides the above tools and other Internet services we have to mention teleconferencing capabilities.
The prerequisite here is an adequate operating system and video and audio players, as well as the simultaneous presence of counselor and consultee.
Communication may be formal or informal, while it is possible to use e-mail or other Internet services assisting in covering all possible needs of communication and collaboration.
- Technology- assisted distance counseling
7.1 Clarification of concept
The National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) uses the term “Technology-Assisted Distance Counseling” to determine the counseling procedure which is not conducted with the direct physical presence of the consultant and the client (Face – to – Face Counseling).
7.2 Forms of technology-assisted distance counseling
The same organization distinguishes the following forms of technology-assisted distance counseling:
7.2.1 E-counseling (Telecounseling)
- Telephone-based Individual Counseling.
- Telephone-based Couple Counseling.
iii. Telephone-based Group Counseling.
7.2.2 Counseling over the internet (Internet Counseling)
- E-mail-based Individual Internet Counseling.
- Chat-based Individual Internet Counseling.
- Chat-based Couple Internet Counseling.
- Video-based Individual Internet Counseling.
- Video-based Couple Internet Counseling.
- Video-based Group Counseling (Savranidis et al., 2003).
- Distance Counselling Practices [E-counseling] in Greece
8.1 Quick reference
Undoubtedly, technological advances have affected all fields of science and the application of their techniques.
Computers as a tool in the hands of counselors provide assistance in the collection, recording of information but also help provide information and support to consultees.
Audiovisual media such as computers and the telephone, are considered as very useful for the counseling process.
Initially, the phone was widely used for therapeutic purposes, demonstrating its efficacy particularly in cases of critical situations, such as suicide, people’s losses, addictions (alcohol, drugs, gambling) or sexual problems.
In Greece, the first counseling service by phone was founded in 1986 by the Center for Mental Health and Research, in cooperation with the General Secretariat for Youth (Malikiosi-Loizou, 1999).
Such services run on a 24 hour basis and provide support and help maintaining the anonymity of the consultee.
Today, the presence of e-counseling is not only limited to phone use, although the lines of communication are many, but it expands with the use of the computer and the communication facilities it provides (email, video call, discussion forums, and online meetings).
As long as technology advances, we discover further applications of it in the Counseling process for human benefit.
Nowadays, there are many that provide support services, without physical presence in the office being required.
All someone has to do is use a search engine to understand the extent of these services which we are referring to, in Greece.
The “market” seems quite big and promising, especially in crisis management of short-term situations, decision making and changes in the daily reality experienced by every man.
Counseling “behind the screen”, in Greece, is gaining significant ground over time, following the developments in the industry and also the developments brought about by the increasing use and “abuse” of computers and especially the Internet.
8.2 Distance Counselling Practices [E-counseling] by phone
E-counseling by phone continues just at the same growth rate, as telephone “support lines” touch the dozens, with the public addressing lines as such exceeding by far ten thousand people. As phone counseling we define the service during which the counselor is working with a client, or a group of client on the phone, so that the client is able to investigate and process personal situations, problems and crises he experiences, in the context of a single Session, a short-term or long-term therapeutic relationship (Giotakos & Triantafyllou, 2006).
More specifically, examples are briefly mentioned including the main “telephone helplines” and the work they provide.
8.3 “Support Hotlines”
8.3.1 Life line
It is a Non-Profit Organisation of Paging and Help at Home which has been in operation since May 2006, with the best known social contribution programs:
SOS 1065 for the elderly, and
116123 European Adult Psychological Support Hotline and volunteer programs.
8.3.2 AIDS Counseling station 210 – 72.22.222 counseling and psychological support by phone on AIDS issues and other STDs.
Launched in September 1992 and to date approximately 65,000 people have addressed the station.
8.3.4 National Transplant Organization 1147
8.3.5 Line for Alzheimer’s
2310 909000 it provides information, guidance, support and referral to appropriate specialists.
8.3.6 SOS Telephone Line OKANA 1031
Since September 2000 it has been providing access to information on Psychotropic Substances, short-term personalized counseling, immediate assistance and psychological support to users and their family environment.
8.3.7 Alcoholics Rehabilitation Hotline
210 5323803 NGO addressed to adults addicted to alcohol.
8.3.8 Open Helpline for Gambling 1114
It refers to pathological gambling and provides direct access to information on pathological gambling, help and support even in high risk situations and a first contact with the treatment program.
Aimed at people with pathological gambling problems, to professionals and the general public.
Operating since 2011 by KETHEA, on a 12-hour basis.
8.3.9 Army Telephone Support Line
800-114-555-1 (Army) and 800-114-555-2 (Air Force).
Operating daily since 2003 on a 24 hour basis and providing immediate psychological and support services in crisis situations.
8.3.10 National Helpline for Children SOS 1056 “The Smile of the Child”
It has been operating since 1997 nationwide 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, providing psychological support and counseling for children, adolescents and parents.
Also, among other things, it provides information and guidance on matters relating to children’s rights and child protection.
8.3.11 SOS Women’s Line 15900
Aied at women victims of violence with 24-hour counseling and psychological support services throughout the year.
From March 2011 to November 2014 it has received about 18,000 calls and 175 emails.
8.3.12 SOS Line “Beside You”
800 11 88 881 provides psychological, legal and other 12hour support to battered women from Europe Women’s Network.
8.3.13 Cancer Helpline 1069
It was created by the NGO “Be Strong” and helps people involved with cancer (patients and relatives) to overcome the mental and emotional impact.
The innovation in this case is that the line also enables psychosocial support online.
Through the website www.bestrong.org.gr one can come into contact with the scientific team of the organization, using chat, video chat, and e-mail.
8.3.14 Helpline for Depression 1034
It was created by the Institute of Mental Health (E.P.I.PS.Y) in 2008. It provides counseling, psychological support and information on the issues of depression and mental health in general.
8.3.15 Intervention Hotline for Suicide 1018
NGO “Klimaka” was launched in 2007 to increase awareness and intervention to prevent suicides through the use of the above telephone line.
It aims at people who are thinking about suicide, people who have attempted suicide in the past, people with suicidal behaviour and people experiencing loss or are worried about another person.
8.3.16 Telephone Support Line for Breastfeeding 10525
It provides correct and responsible information on breastfeeding, with members from the field of medicine, pediatrics, and obstetrics.
It is addressed to nursing mothers and health professionals (ALKYONI Program, National Breastfeeding Promotion Initiative).
These telephone support lines are indicative, as there is quite a large number of telephone support lines at this time in Greece.
This study is a mere attempt to identify the main lines that appear through search engines.
8.4 Internet e-counseling services
Apart from the existence of SOS telephone lines, if we search the internet, we realise that there are also e-counseling services, as in the case of the NGO “Be Strong”.
Taking as an example the tele-services of this NGO, we will be briefly make a reference to the operation of a Counseling platform online.
Thus, the site of this NGO, namely the Support web site, there are two (2) banners, depending on the manner in which a person wishes to communicate-either through texting (Be Strong Chat) or via Skype.
Between the two banners there is an offline or online indication, depending on whether there is a mental health specialist available at that moment or not.
There is also the ability to communicate via e-mail. Up to today, over five hundred (500) people have addressed this body of experts and have received advice and support, through direct text messaging (chat), and about four hundred (400) individuals via e-mail.
Possible weaknesses of e-counseling [Distance Counselling Practices]
Of course, although the usefulness of e-counseling is great, the whole process poses several limitations, which by itself creates enough questions of an ethical nature and ethical content.
Initially, the matter we should focus on is who is able to provide counseling services from a distance and who will seek and accept such services as a consultee.
The “experts” providing these services need to be trained, to have the necessary power to use new technologies and to use e-counseling tools correctly in order to achieve their maximum contribution to resolving the situations experienced by each consultee.
A key question in this kind of consultative process is the substitution of the counselor by a “machine”.
E-counseling, as evidenced by the “e-” as the first part of the word, refers to Counseling from a distance.
That means that the process is not provided in a counselor’s office, but takes place in a different place for both involved.
In some cases, such as sending and receiving e-mail, not only is the place where the counselor and consultee are different, but also the time of communication.
The absence of “natural”, “real” presence and its substitution by a “machine” (computer, telephone) generates additional dilemmas on whether the basic principles of counseling are followed and how helpful such a procedure might prove for the individual.
However, by an initial investigation of e-counseling services in Greece today, we could say that these services are constantly finding increasing resonance.
The increasing access of more and more people to new technologies, the need for access to new technologies, anonymity and the Counseling procedure which is not exercised in person, are some of the reasons why some people turn to “e-counselors”.
- Instead of a conclusion
Despite whatever differences we find with conventional counseling, the importance of e-counseling is not limited to supposed “disadvantages – advantages”.
It is human needs that redefine the questions in the Counseling field and review the roles of the counselor and consultee, eventually providing new meaning to the whole Counseling process and the prospects we have known about so far.
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