When most people think of therapy, the traditional face-to-face scenario usually comes to mind – travelling to the therapist’s home or office, sitting opposite them for fifty minutes, then making their way home, possibly shaken and upset.
This mode of accessing therapy really came about back in the 19th century, thanks to Freud and his ‘talking cure.’ (Although Freud's clients were not allowed to look at him, he sat behind them in a chair while they lay on the couch). Many approaches have been developed since Freud’s psychoanalysis, all predominantly based on seeing a therapist face-to-face.
But now we now have many options for how we connect. We’re seeing the growth of online therapy, online CBT, even instant messaging therapy, and telephone counselling is fast becoming a close second in the way clients choose to access psychotherapeutic help and support.
There have been telephone support services around for people in distress for quite a while, The Samaritans was set up in 1953 and now has 201 offices providing 24-hour confidential support to anyone in distress. (You can contact them on 116 123).
Telephone counselling via Employee Assistance Programmes is often the preferred way as the client can fit sessions in around work, and sessions can even take place while the client is at work if they’re in a confidential space.
So why opt for telephone counselling? It's often the more convenient option. There is no travel time for the client, and no parking charges or issues. Therapy can be demanding and emotional – if you’re faced with a long drive after a session this might seem daunting.
If you’re having issues with anxiety, having to find the therapist’s home or office, park or make your way by public transport, go through that initial contact, and be in the company of someone you have never met before while having to talk about yourself, can seem an insurmountable task, perhaps even increasing anxiety. On the phone you’ll be in the comfort of your own space, and you know that as soon as the session ends, you’re already home.
The surprising thing to know about success in therapy is the most influential factor in the outcome is the therapeutic alliance between client and therapist. This means that no matter the approach your therapist is using, CBT, Gestalt, psychodynamic, person-centred or any other, it’s the quality of the relationship that best predicts the outcome.
That relationship or alliance can be developed just as well on the phone as in a face-to-face setting, and there are reasons why it may be even easier on the phone. Face to face the client may have worries about being judged (of course this should never happen in counselling) but they may also put their own judgements and projections onto the counsellor – how do they look, what do their clothes say about them, what does the office say about them, etc. With telephone counselling those issues or blocks do not come in to play.
Of course, there is a necessity for the client to take the telephone session just as seriously as they would a face-to-face session.
The client needs to find a safe, confidential space to take the call, and to be fully focused on the call during the time, not cleaning, watching television or babysitting.
A counselling session whether on the phone or face-to-face is a time to focus solely and completely on you, to explore what’s happening in your life, find out what you want to change, and discover ways things can be different and better. That’s worth fifty minutes of anyone’s time, and if time’s short, or the thought of going to a session brings on anxiety, telephone counselling might be just the thing you’re looking for.