Online counselling

Our free online counselling service may help you if you are currently registered at the University of Leeds but are studying or on work placement away from the city.

This service is only available if you are unable to attend counselling appointments in the Student Counselling Centre due to studying or working away from Leeds. If you have other reasons for being unable to attend, please contact us so we can decide whether we can make the service available to you.

You'll need to submit a registration form before you use the service. Please read all the information below before you make your application.

How online counselling works

During online counselling you communicate through an online text-based system, using a specially developed secure private chatroom, accessible only by you and your counsellor.

We usually offer contracts of up to four online counselling sessions per person, each session lasting for 50 minutes and are usually weekly.

The online counselling service operates from the Student Counselling Centre and is only available during its usual working hours (weekdays 9am-5pm, UK time). In term time, appointments are available some weekday evenings up to 7pm, UK time.

We're not able to offer an online out-of-hours or crisis service.

Who can use the online counselling service

We seek to ensure our online counselling service meets all the same professional standards of our face to face services. The following requirements enable us to guarantee the confidentiality of the counselling sessions and integrity of the links between counsellor and client. In order to receive the service,

You must:

  • be registered with and studying on a course at the University of Leeds, but unable to attend face-to-face counselling
  • have sole and uninterrupted access to a computer for periods of at least 50 minutes
  • have an email address that you have sole use of
  • provide a telephone contact number and a secondary telephone contact point for use in emergencies
  • provide a contact number for your medical support
  • fully complete the online counselling registration form
  • wait for an email response to the registration and then complete the online counselling application form.

You will be unable to receive online counselling if:

  • we believe, after application and assessment, you would be better assisted by other kinds of help (eg a psychiatric intervention)
  • we believe you to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol while using the service
  • we believe you could access our face-to-face services but choose not to
  • we believe for any other reason you are not/no longer suitable to receive the service
  • you apply to use the service from a territory that we are aware legally forbids us to provide counselling eg the State of California, USA. 
  • you live in Leeds or West Yorkshire and have not completed the section of the registration form giving reasons why you aren't applying for our face-to-face services.

Counselling is a recognised and well-established practice in the UK and in many other countries. However, we can't be aware of its status in all territories. If you use the online counselling service it is your responsibility to be aware of any relevant laws in the country you're in that may affect your right or ability to legally use counselling.

Application process 

Complete and submit the online counselling registration form. We'll verify your information against University records to ensure your security and the integrity of the service. No third party will know that we have checked this data.

A counsellor will endeavour to email you within five working days. If appropriate, they'll approve your registration, send you a unique username and password to access the service and ask you to complete and submit the online counselling application form. You must provide all the information requested on the form so we can assess your application. If you're unable or unwilling to provide this information it will delay the start of a counselling process and, in some instances, make it impossible for us to offer the service.

If appropriate, a counsellor will endeavour to email you within seven days of receiving your application to offer you your first online counselling appointment. You'll have seven days to tell us whether you wish to accept it. If you're unable to keep the suggested appointment time, tell us and we'll explore other possibilities. If we don't hear from you within seven days we'll assume you don't currently wish to use the service - you are, however, welcome to contact us again at a later date.

If it's not appropriate to offer you online counselling, a counsellor will let you know within seven days of receiving your application.

Contact us if you need any help with your application.

If you find online sessions are not for you, you can cancel appointments at any time by emailing the Student Counselling Centre.

Online Sessions

At the agreed date and time you will need to log into the system with your username and password for your counselling. When you log in, your session(s) appear as links which you simply click to begin the session. A private, secure, chat window will appear, and you can see if your counsellor is logged in at their end. When you are both logged into the system you can type messages to each other for the duration of the session. If for any reason you session goes down you can simply log in again and pick up where you left off. If you do not type for 5 minutes, you will be automatically logged off for security reasons. The transcript of the session is not stored and is not available after you have logged out of the session.

Emails and email attachments

We don't provide an email counselling service and only use email to arrange appointments. We therefore have a policy of not receiving and not reading email attachments.

If there's any information you wish us to have in advance of counselling, please use the online counselling application form. Anything you want to tell us about afterwards can be discussed in an online counselling session.

Missed appointments

Please help us to make the most of the time we have available for counselling.

If you know in advance that you won't be able to attend your online session, please let us know as soon as possible.

If you miss an appointment, contact us as soon as possible. If we don't hear from you, we'll email you to ask you to confirm attendance at your next appointment.

If you miss an appointment without giving prior notice, you risk losing one of your sessions. At busy times, if we have not heard from you in the 24 hours following your missed appointment, the appointment time may be offered to someone else and you'll have to go back on the waiting list if you want to continue your counselling.

If one of our counsellors misses a session, we'll email you to explain why and to offer another appointment as soon as possible.

Technical problems

We'll tell you about any potential communication difficulties as soon as we know about them.

If we're having problems with the online counselling software, we will try to tell you by email and give you an appointment for the same time the following week.

If we're having problems with the online counselling software and we're unable to use email, we'll try to tell you by text message (on the main contact number you gave us) and give you an appointment for the same time the following week.

When we leave you a message it won't identify us as a service. It will say something like: "This is a message for [your name] from the University. You had an appointment with [counsellor's forename] at 11 this morning. I have made another appointment for you at the same time next week. Please confirm your intention to attend within 48 hours. If you do not confirm I will assume you no longer want the appointment, though you are welcome to get back in touch with us."

Contact us if you believe the security or confidentiality of your connection to us has been in any way compromised.

Confidentiality and integrity 

Confidentiality

We would like to reassure you that as a client of the Student Counselling Centre any information you provide will be kept strictly confidential and not be revealed to any third parties except in the special circumstances detailed below:

  • Within the Centre, staff may from time to time share information about you in case work meetings and with other counsellors to try and ensure that you receive the best service possible. We also receive regular external clinical supervision. If our work with you is discussed, we take care to protect your identity.
  • Where there is good reason to believe that you or someone else may be at risk of serious physical injury, information may be revealed to third parties outside of the Centre. However, unless the situation is an emergency, we would normally endeavour to discuss the proposed disclosure with you in advance and try and obtain your consent.

Your consent will be sought before any information about you is shared with your GP, other mental health workers (eg psychiatrist) or academic staff within the University.

Our software has been designed so our online conversations will not be stored on any server and you will not have to download any software in order to use the service. Both of these things enhance confidentiality.

Protecting your own confidentiality

Our online counselling software is designed to prevent transcripts of the session being copied or printed. This is both for security and confidentiality purposes and to ensure parity with our face-to-face service where we do not permit the recording of counselling conversations.

You are responsible for maintaining the security and confidentiality of any materials we send you.

If you're using your own computer

Consider whether you can be overlooked. If you leave your station, no matter how briefly, minimise the page to the bottom of the screen so it cannot be casually read by others. Also consider whether anyone else has access to your computer or email account. We suggest you protect your computer and email account with a password which you change regularly.

If you're using a shared computer

Consider whether you can be overlooked. If you leave your station, no matter how briefly, minimise the page to the bottom of the screen so it cannot be casually read by others. Before you close the computer down at the end of a session, we suggest you delete the browsing history, temporary internet files and cookies so the next user doesn't see that you visited our website.

If you believe you may be overlooked during an online counselling session we suggest waiting until you can work without this concern. If you are only able to use computer clusters, try to find a station that makes it hard for others to overlook you. If this is not possible, it may be sensible to cancel your session until you can have it from a more suitable place. 

Data protection, notes and records

The data controller is the University of Leeds. If at any time you have concerns regarding treatment of your personal data by the Centre then you should address your concerns to the Head of the Centre, Nigel Humphrys.

Your data will be processed to facilitate and support the delivery of your counselling and the service the Student Counselling Centre provides. In particular, in order to understand the profile of users, we will be gathering statistical information. This information will be anonymised and will only be used for internal purposes.

Subject to the exceptional circumstances mentioned above, your data will be regarded as strictly confidential and not shared with third parties. If you have any queries about confidentiality please raised them with your counsellor. Generally your data will be stored for up to three years.

Our records of attendance, with identifying data, are stored separately from case notes. Our records of attendance and case notes are not stored on computer.

Our case notes are coded to protect anonymity, stored securely and then destroyed after three years. They are kept securely and destroyed after three years. 

Our statistical information, which may be provided to third parties and appears in our annual report, is anonymous. The Student Counselling Centre recognises your right to access your personal data in accordance with data protection laws.

Security and privacy 

As with any web-based service, it's impossible to guarantee 100% safety from unauthorised access. However, we believe we have taken all sensible steps to deliver a very high level of security.

Our site has a secure web address (https as opposed to http), and the technology we use provides high levels of security and confidentiality. No one else is able to join in with or see the conversation you're having with your counsellor.

For security and confidentiality purposes, our online counselling software is designed to prevent transcripts of the session being copied or printed.

Your personal data that has been collected relating to use of the online system is to be used for the purposes of delivering online services to you.