Avatar-based counselling for young people within school counselling: Qualitative analysis of client experience

Biljana Van Rijn, Michael Cooper, Evi Chryssafidou

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: This study is a qualitative analysis of clients’ experiences of a new avatar based counselling intervention, based on the ‘ProReal’ software (www.proreal.world). The intervention was piloted in eight secondary schools in the UK in 2016.
Aims: Twenty‐nine participants (53% of the full sample) were interviewed about their use of the software, experience of the intervention, process of change and views about its helpfulness.
Materials and Methods: Interviews were semi‐structured and were analysed using thematic analysis.
Results: The analysis shows that the intervention was potentially attractive to these clients, particularly those enthusiastic about digital software and clients who found visual communication helpful. The software provided additional opportunities for clients to communicate their inner worlds to the counsellor and supported the development of insight. Male clients, in particular, commented on its helpfulness.
Discussion: There is an indication that digital imagery supported the process of change in counselling and the development of meaning bridges: both internally and with the counsellor (Stiles, 2011; Stiles et al., 1990). However, the software could be experienced as an obstacle when clients wanted to talk about specific problems or ‘vent’ their feelings. All clients who reported that they did not find the software helpful were female. There were a number of suggestions about developing the software to increase opportunities for expression as well as appropriateness for clients from different minority ethnic backgrounds.
Conclusion: Use of digital software in counselling has a potential to enhance communication and support a process of change, particularly with male clients, those who find visual communication helpful, and clients enthusiastic about digital technology. Further research is needed to develop the intervention and compare it to the use of other creative media in counselling.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)59-70
JournalCounselling and Psychotherapy Research
Issue number1
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 9 Nov 2017


  • avatar-based counselling
  • school counselling
  • counselling with adolescents
  • digital media in counselling

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