Factors related to perceived helpfulness in supporting highly distressed individuals through an online support chat

Azy Barak, Nili Bloch

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    The purpose of the study was to examine the contribution made by dimensions of session-impact factors (depth and smoothness), end-of-session factors of client's mood (positivity and emotional arousal), and several textual variables (use of positive and negative emotional words; helper's and client's writing lengths) to perceived helpfulness of emotional support conversations carried on by trained, paraprofessional helpers through an Internet chat with highly distressed individuals. Two studies were conducted at an Israeli, exclusively online emotional support service for suicidal and highly distressed people who have undergone various negative experiences (SAHAR). Study 1 compared 40 chat conversations deliberately indicated by clients as having been helpful at the termination stage of session with 40 other conversations, using expert judgments of session-impact factors, as well as objective word counts for textual variables. Study 2 examined correlations between helpers' evaluation of the sessions' helpfulness to clients in 60 (other) chat support conversations and session-impact factors and textual variables. The findings of Study 1 showed that all four impact factors significantly differentiated between helpful and other conversations, while textual variables did not. In Study 2, the results showed that all four session-impact factors positively correlated with session helpfulness, yielding multiple R = 0.54, as well as the length of helper's and client's writing. The implications of these studies are similar to offline counseling sessions: deep, smooth conversations that yield positive responses and arouse clients' emotions in online support are more helpful than shallow, bumping conversations that leave clients emotionally indifferent. Longer writing, by both helpers and clients, seems to be an important factor, as well.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)60-68
    Number of pages9
    JournalCyberpsychology and Behavior
    Issue number1
    StatePublished - Feb 2006

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Communication
    • Applied Psychology
    • Human-Computer Interaction


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