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Prompt, Dense Messages Key to Text-Based Counseling

March 25, 2020

Text-based counseling has a greater impact when text messages are fewer but longer, and when texting sessions last longer, according to a study involving a text-based counseling helpline for children. Researchers published their findings online in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking.

“The idea that text interactions should consist of many brief messages does not seem to apply here,” researchers wrote. “Perhaps communicating via fewer more substantial messages provides the child with a better overview of the session content.”

The study investigated the effect of 603 text message counseling sessions involving clients younger than age 23 who used a dialogue-based, human-handled helpline. The average age of participants was 13.2 years, and 90% were girls.

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A greater volume of text in each message from the counselor, but fewer messages during the session, was more effective than sessions with multiple, brief texts, the study found. While a longer session duration was associated with a positive impact, counselor response latency was not.

Counseling impact was measured by the client’s experience of being heard, changes in well-being, and empowerment. The study identified an overall positive impact of text-based counseling immediately after the session, as well as 2 weeks later.

“Within text counseling, children and counselors can communicate across contexts and challenge the idea that the presence is determined by physical space or synchronicity,” researchers wrote.

“Texting makes the counseling service highly accessible and promises the possibility of contact with a counselor whenever required, conveniently and from a variety of self-selected locations. Our results highlight the benefits of this.”

—Jolynn Tumolo


Sindahl TN, van Dolen W. Texting at a child helpline: how text volume, session length and duration, response latency, and waiting time are associated with counseling impact. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking. 2020 January 28;[Epub ahead of print].

What features make text-based counseling effective? [press release]. New Rochelle, New York: Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.; March 10, 2020.

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