Psychological Online Services For Couples:

a Comparison Between Italian And Foreign Supply

Emanuela Rodriguez, Alessia Cuccurullo, Anna Cannata, Sara Garbucci, Daniela Lemmo, Irma Maritato, Stefano Manzo



The work here proposed intended to achieve a comparison between the websites in Italian language and the ones in English language offering online psychological service for couples. The idea to make this comparison takes its origin a wider work, whose end is to realize a mapping of the services of online counseling offered in Italy (The psychological services into the cyberspace; a first census on the services offered in Italy, Manzo et al., 2015). The work of mapping chieved, favored the growth of a questions on psychological online interventions targeted to the italian couples, highlighting the lack of specific offer for couples and showing how services existing are addressed at all, without any specificity.

This finding has raised some questions: how are characterized the psychological online services for couples in Italy? Does it exist an analogy between these services and those existing outside of Italy? Abroad, the tradition of psychological online services seems to be strengthened, but does it exists specific offer for couples, or are there also here here a generic offer?

The need to operate this comparison is born, besides, from the finding of a shortage in literature of studies linked to issues related to psychological online services for couples. In fact, even thought a study carried out by Maheu & Gordon (2005) has highlighted how a good percentage (22%) of psychological helping requests done online are linked to relationship problems and even if DuBois (2004) highlightes that the high request of online counselling is motivated by relationship issues with the partner, only few studies today have emphasized and focused the attention on the interest for the online psychological intervention targeted on couples.

Despite the research areas are still unexplored, at this time, (Jencius & Sager, 2001; King et al, 1998) the attention on the psychological online couples interventions seems more alive in the other countries, where the studies on these kind of interventions for couples already spreaded for several years (Pollock, 2006). For this reason, a comparison between the Italian offer and the other one on foreign websites could be interesting, as well as an useful starting point for future structuring of a more focused offerIn

Objectives and Methodology

The main objective of this work is to realize a comparison between the offer of website in Italian language and the ones in English language offering online psychological service for couples. The identification of the differences between the Italian and foreign offer intended to think about methodological and ethical issues connected to psychological and professional use of the net in relation to specific offer for couples. The achievement of this objective was realized through the comparison, among others, of some essential aspects of psychological services delivered online, such as: supplier; category of target audience the service is addressed to; modality of service delivery; professionals who offer the service; existence of terms and conditions; the device/operating system used to deliver the service;. The investigation work is started through preliminary research of the terms about areas of psychological online intervention. It ‘been hypothesized, starting from representations of psychological intervention, that some terms could foster greater number of results about the research. Therefore, we have been used for the research here proposed those Italian and English keywords, which have produced a greater number of results about psychological online services. This criteria has led to the exclusion of those terms that, concerned the area of psychological online intervention but did not provide results suitable for the research interest. The used keywords have been selected after a consideration done on the main types of psychological services for couples provided online, considering the terms most commonly used both in Italian and in English. That was not just a mere translation from a language to another, but a consideration of the words used in both idioms (Tab. 1). The keywords thus selected were included on the Italian Google web browser. For each keyword were examined the first ten pages of results, considering them the most relevant in terms of indexing of the search engine: for each page it was analyzed each result achieved. The website, therefore, have been selected based of adherence to guideline research, that is the presence of psychological services for couples and online supply. To greater specificity of the inclusion and exclusion criteria refer to the mapping work (The psychological services into the cyberspace; a first census on the services offered in Italy, Manzo et al., 2015). The results obtained from this preliminary survey were then analyzed using an evaluation grid, built ad hoc, making it possible to monitor different issues of website taken into consideration. Specifically, the grid has allowed to analyze the following characteristics of selected website: supplier (who offers the service); type of professional; target (to which the online service is addressed to); type of performance offered use of web; tools; it device (the device/operating system used to deliver the service); aspects privacy policy related; service delivery; payment method. The choice of monitoring these aspects was determined by the need to make a precise comparison between different offers in websites in Italian language and the ones in English language on the basis of shared analysis criteria. From research, carried out using the criteria described above, were found 76 sites in English language, which were then compared with a sample of 118 Italian websites which was extrapolated from mapping work. A sample with such a small number of websites in English language, probably, depends on the choice and use of the Italian version of the search engine Google, which, supposedly, it has made a results filter

Analysis of the results

A first analysis of the results has highlighted some substantial differences between websites in English and in Italian. In Italy, there isn’t a specific offer for couples, against the lot of services dedicated to this specific target in English websites (41%); this appears interesting and shows a vagueness of offer in Italy, partially confirming the research hypothesis. The specificity of foreign websites manifests in services build ad hoc: premarital counseling, couple conflict, separation and divorce. Considering the absence of online services created for couples in Italy, it’s possible to assume that Italian services, to now, have not a specific target on the basis of which achieve the offer. This fact can be connected to a lack of question from couples in our country, or also to a inability to answer of the suppliers. About this we can also reflect if this fact is influenced by the formation of the operators. In fact, in Italy we have only psychologist and psychotherapists, instead of an hyper specialization in foreign websites. This difference determine also a multiplicity of services: in Italy prevails the consultancy (53%), closely followed by support; in foreign websites, instead, prevails counseling (41%), accompanied by others typologies of service, such as psychotherapy, coaching and mediation. About this, can be also interesting open a reflection about the ambiguity of the term “counseling” in Italy, that appears different from the English meaning. In both samples services are granted by independent contractors (87% in Italian sites, 71% in foreign sites); it is present a 26% of societies in English sample in front of 5% in Italy. The modality of service delivery appears similar. In foreign websites there is an increased use of secure platforms like vsee, vcita and counselling atl (18%), compared to Italian websites, despite is present also the use of skype or other unsafe platforms (46% English websites, 78% Italian). In addition, appears interesting consider the high percent of websites not defining the used platforms (14% of Italian sample; 41% of foreign sample). These data may suggest a little consideration of professionals to sensitive data of customers. About privacy, on websites in English there is a specific page dedicated to (54%); furthermore, these specific spaces presents references to the use of an insurance to pay the online services. It appears also interesting the reporting of a specific telephone number for people on suicide watch, that is completely absent in Italy. In this country, in data protection matters refers to the 196/03 law (40%). As regards modality of service delivery, websites with an hourly basis predominate (42% of Italian sample and 51% of English sample) ant websites not including this information (39% of Italian, 34% of foreign). Also regarding payment modality there are many not specified (35% of Italian, 50% of foreign), accompanied by websites that offers the possibility to use many modalities of payment, such as paypal, credit transfer and card.

Concluding remarks


After the investigation, appears interesting to propose some reflections with the aim of improving Italian online services for couples. The comparison made underlined some absences in the Italian offer, which differentiates the samples. The starting hypothesis of this work (the lack of a specificity for couples in Italy) has been confirmed; the comparison pointed out the existence of services realized only for couples in the websites in English, build on this target. So, can be opportune to address Italian offer to this target, by creating services for couples problems, such as conflicts, separations or support to couples in difficulty. To realize this, might be useful try to question about the type of couple that professionals of mental health have in mind, with the aim of realizing better websites. Another emerging element regards the contractual aspects. This research seems to underline the necessity of a specific regulatory for the Italian websites. Instead, on the sites in English it is frequent the existence of specific sections dedicated to these aspects. In this regard might be opportune to start a reflection process, to realize an offer closer to deontological principles. An additional reflection refers to the absence of public services for couples, in both samples. This absence gives rise to suspicions that this target is not considered from public services, but only from private.

Finally, it appears important to highlight the criticality of this work, with the objective of a future deepening of the same. A first element is the criterion on which we chosen the keywords. A second element is the small English sample, that caused a restrict possibility of comparison. The sample could be extended by using an English platform for doing the keywords research

XIV European Congress of Psychology -Milano 7-10 luglio 2015