Experiences of online counselling in Higher Education: A Digital Native perspective

  • Claire Wyatt

Student thesis: Doctor of Counselling Psychology


Background: Research suggests that 75% of people who develop a mental health illness are more likely to do so between 16 and 25 years of age. Higher Education (HE) digital native students are at greater risk of experiencing psychological distress due to this transitional life stage but have the potential for greater targeted social and emotional support. Kooth Student was developed in 2017 offering online counselling to HE students between 18 and 25 years. The use of online counselling is growing particularly with HE digital native students however, further research is needed to understand how online counselling is experienced by this population and how services may be improved. Aim: The aim of this research was to further understanding of what HE digital native students find helpful/unhelpful in this type of support, why online counselling may be a preferred medium of therapeutic communication to in-person counselling and how the therapeutic relationship is subjectively experienced. Methodology: The design of the study is a qualitative reflexive thematic analysis based on Braun and Clarke’s (2019) six stages of analysis. Eight participants’, recruited through the Kooth service, engaged in semi-structured, online (text-based) interviews via the Kooth platform. Interview transcripts were then analysed to develop themes. Findings: The analysis generated five themes: 1) the context of seeking online counselling; 2) Assumptions and expectations; 3) safe and familiar context to facilitate the shaping of identity; 4) development of self in relationship; and 5) support and information at the touch of a button. Discussion: The study highlights assumptions made about HE digital native students and their technical and communication skill ability. Accordingly, there is a lack of understanding of the online counselling structure, process and therapeutic communication. Despite this, HE digital native students experience safety, control and freedom in online counselling that offers an escape and relief from reality and a space to develop a sense of self and interpersonal skills with others whilst also facilitating the avoidance of social anxiety experienced in in-person counselling. Online counselling offers several unique factors which meet students’ needs. Potential implications and recommendations for Kooth, other online counselling services and counselling psychology are considered.
Date of Award31 Dec 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorJo Shuttleworth (Supervisor), Terry Hanley (Supervisor) & Gabriel Wynn (Supervisor)


  • Counselling Psychology
  • Student
  • Online counselling
  • Digital native
  • Higher Education

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