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Getting psychological help used to mean driving to a counsellor's practice at an appointed time once or twice a week. Nowadays you can be counselled from anywhere, anytime. Helen Grange looks at two such online services BEING a child in today's world is a minefield. For parents, it's just as challenging. Not surprising, then, that psychological counselling has become necessary Only where does one find the time for therapy these days? And if you're a teenager grappling with an issue you don't want to share with your parents or caregiver, how do you get help anonymously? Here's where technology has evolved to play a vital role, for parents and children. In the case of children in real danger, being able to communicate in cyberspace may even have saved their lives. Verve found two services that are offering counselling that doesn't require one-on-one sessions. FOR PARENTS Ken Resnick, an educational psychologist with 20 years' experience, is the man behind SmartChoiceParenting, an evidencebased positive parenting programme shown to be effective in helping parents to deal with children with attention deficit disorder (ADD), encopresis (soiling), bed-wetting, oppositional defiant disorders (ODD) and many other behaviour problems. Children of divorce are a strong focus of the programme. A year ago, Resnick decided to offer his programme via one-hour counselling sessions on Skype. "I prefer to engage telephonically not by e-mail, as it's a more natural method of communication," said Resnick. "It's usually me and a parent, but it can also be a three-way Skype session, with the child or other parent involved as well." Before the Skype session, the parent usually fills out an online questionnaire, so Resnick has a good idea what the problems are beforehand. "Just by talking with the parent, it soon becomes clear what's up. "I find that a common parenting trap is overcompensating for guilt over not being around enough, and continually making a soft landing for children, so they don't experience the consequences of their actions. "The basic principle of SmartChoiceParenting is that parenting is about ensuring the survival of their children, and that only an adult can help a child grow into an independent adult. "But many parents struggle with guiding their children to eventually stand on their own two feet — they don't have the tools themselves. Parenting is not an inborn skill," said Kesnick. A one-hour Skype session costs R800, and this includes an e-manual covering the issues that parents most often confront, and how to navigate them. Parenting workshops are also presented via Skype, while Resnick's website www.smartchoiceparenting.com also offers tips and advice to parents. In addition he advises parents on his Facebook site, www.facebook.com/ SmartChoiceParenting, or Twitter handle, @Ken Kenway. "I'm a father of three stepchildren, all of them well adjusted, so I do counsel from experience too," he said. "Children's problems manifest themselves as a result of bad parenting." To set up a Skype session with Resnick, visit www.smarchoiceparenting.com Another educational psychologist who uses Skype is Dr Di Shand. Visit her website on www.drdi.co.za FOR CHILDREN More than 43 000 young people have been counselled via their smartphones since the launch in 2012 of MobieG, a text-based life skills counselling app offered via Mxit, the South African-created social network with over 7 million users. "We started it with the aim of counselling kids at schools on the West Rand - kids with problems including relationships, anger, pregnancy depression, rape, bullying and addictions - and it just spread like wildfire," said Stephnie Crouse, executive director of MobieG. "Now there are thousands of kids using it, not only in South Africa but 25 other countries in Africa." The big attraction for children, some of whom are in seriously risky situations that might include sexual abuse by an adult, is that the children seeking counselling can be anonymous, as their names and cellphone numbers are not visible to counsellors. "So they feel completely safe. And when they log out of Mxit, the history of the chat is gone," said Crouse. The service is free, so it is reaching thousands of youngsters, from affluent to poor, throughout the country The guidance and advice is provided by volunteers who have had professional training. They counsel children between 7pm and 9.30pm during the week, and on Sundays between 9pm and 11pm, the peak chat times. "Each evening, about 10 volunteer counsellors meet at a venue in Gauteng and provide the service over two hours," says Crouse. "If an advocate, psychologist, social worker or medical professional is needed, the chat can be referred to these individuals who are online at home." The main users of MobieG are teenagers and young adults, but children as young as eight or nine are also using it. Sadly, many of these youngsters have no other adult to turn to. "From the experience we've gained, we know that many teens don't get any guidance from their parents," said Crouse. "The biggest problems that children have are destructive relationships, low selfesteem, suicidal thoughts, exposure to pornography, self-harm, depression, gaming addiction, dating violence, sexually transmitted diseases, eating disorders, substance abuse and sexual abuse." Career counselling has also become a widespread need, so MobieG has added a career helpline. After doing a career quiz, children can connect with a facilitator to ask questions about their choices and where to study. More than 42 000 kids have been career counselled since the service's inception. *To get the MobieG app on your phone, download Mxit (www.mxit.com), then search for MobieG on Apps and add it to your phone. Childline SA also offers online counselling to children and parents on the Mxit platform, from 2pm-6pm Monday to Saturday. After you've downloaded Mxit, go to Mxit Reach. Look for Counselling, then Childline. Add the Childline app. Follow the prompts to chat with a counsellor in one of the chat rooms. South African Depression and Anxiety Group's Suicide Crisis Line is available at 0800 567 567, or SMS 31393 Psychologist Ken Resnick uses Skype to counsel parents. We turn to technology for so much, why not therapy? These days adults and children needing support are able to turn to video conferencing as well as text-based and call services to reach out to psychologists and counsellors.