Counseling and new media technologies: A comparison of problem presentations in e-mail and in chat


  • Wyke Stommel Radboud University Nijmegen
  • Fleur Van der Houwen VU University Amsterdam



chat, conversation analysis, e-mail, new media technology, online counseling, problem presentation


In this article, we examine problem presentations in e-mail and chat counseling. Previous studies of online counseling have found that the medium (e.g., chat, email) impacts the unfolding interaction. However, the implications for counseling are unclear. We focus on problem presentations and use conversation analysis to compare 15 chat and 22 e-mail interactions from the same counseling program. We find that in e-mail counseling, counselors open up the interactional space to discuss various issues, whereas in chat, counselors restrict problem presentations and give the client less space to elaborate. We also find that in e-mail counseling, clients use narratives to present their problem and orient to its seriousness and legitimacy, while in chat counseling, they construct problem presentations using a symptom or a diagnosis. Furthermore, in email counseling, clients close their problem presentations stating completeness, while in chat counseling, counselors treat clients’ problem presentations as incomplete. Our findings shed light on how the medium has implications for counseling.

Author Biographies

  • Wyke Stommel, Radboud University Nijmegen
    Wyke Stommel received her PhD in discourse analysis from the University of Frankfurt-Main and is currently an Assistant Professor at Radboud University, Nijmegen. Her research interests include institutional interaction, such as (online) counseling interaction and police interaction, and micro-analytic methods for online data.
  • Fleur Van der Houwen, VU University Amsterdam
    Fleur van der Houwen holds a PhD from the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. She is currently at the Department of Language and Communication, VU University, Amsterdam. Her research interests include interaction in institutional settings, the representation of institutions in the media, and new media technologies for communication.


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How to Cite

Stommel, W., & Van der Houwen, F. (2016). Counseling and new media technologies: A comparison of problem presentations in e-mail and in chat. Communication and Medicine, 12(2-3), 243–256.