Is Phone Counseling/Therapy Appropriate?

Updated September 30, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Technology is getting more and more advanced, making many things much easier and more efficient, including counseling and therapy. However, some people are still not sure that telephone counseling is appropriate. There are those who believe that for counseling or therapy to be effective, you have to do it the old-fashioned way—in person. While this may be true for certain circumstances, in most cases, telephone counseling is perfect. In fact, telephone counseling literally saves lives, in the form of suicide prevention and addiction treatment hotlines.

These mental health services, typically staffed by volunteers or life coaches and dependent on donations to function, are some of the most valuable public mental health initiatives around today. That being said, the same treatment approach that is highly effective in one set of circumstances may be far less useful in a different setting. With the rise of several online counseling sites offering smartphone-facilitated counseling, we need to ask ourselves if telephone counseling can be effective.

Distance Therapy

Could Picking Up The Phone Be The Answer You're Looking For?

Using modern technology in counseling, licensed therapists can now work with clients in any location, from prisons to overseas to remote areas, with distance therapy services. Obviously, this requires some differences in approach compared to traditional therapy. Talk therapy services have certainly proven to be an effective therapeutic tool; but how much is lost when a therapist is unable to rely on visual cues?

The short answer must be that this depends on the individual therapist and his or her therapeutic approach. In terms of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), the content of what is being said may be much more significant than how it is expressed. Other types of mental health services may require greater insights into the patient’s emotional responses, including observing body language.

However, in most cases, telephone therapy or counseling is not only appropriate but is actually more effective than traditional face-to-face therapy or counseling. 

For example, those with severe anxiety issues such as social anxiety disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder have a difficult time going out in public or talking to strangers. In addition, patients who go through depression have a hard time getting out of bed sometimes, let alone going to see a counselor or therapist. For these individuals, telephone therapy can be a lifesaver.

Who Can Benefit From Receiving Mental Health Services Online Or Through Telephone Counseling?

So is telephone counseling effective and who can receive counseling in this form?A common misconception is that telephone counseling services or online counseling services are less effective than in-person mental health services. However, this isn’t true. There is considerable research that shows that online counseling services are just as effective as in-person therapy sessions, and the benefits begin with the very first therapy session. Therefore, most people considering counseling can benefit from telephone counseling or online counseling.

Another misconception is that these distance or online mental health services only come in the form of individual counseling. People typically imagine a single client video conferencing their licensed therapist. But this isn’t true either. These services come in the form of couples therapy and marriage counseling as well as family therapy. Some platforms may even provide group therapy services.

For couples seeking couples therapy and marriage counseling, telephone counseling and online counseling can help you with your life challenges and relationship issues. As long as the two of you can take a group phone call or are available for video conferencing, a couples therapist can work with you through distance couples therapy.

Furthermore, people experiencing a mental illness can find relief through telephone counseling and online counseling. Online mental health professionals can provide support and coping strategies to improve their clients' mental health and well-being. Some mental health conditions that a therapist online can help with are:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Bipolar Disorder

In addition, online therapists can help with life challenges, issues with self-esteem, and other mental health issues. Some telephone counseling services can connect you to a life coach that can help you with self-esteem issues or other concerns that don’t require a licensed therapist to treat.

However, it is important to note that telephone counseling services may not have the ability to diagnose a condition. Therefore, while these phone sessions may help you with your life challenges and emotional pain, and develop strategies for self care, you may need to seek other options if you need an official diagnosis. Furthermore, most platforms cannot help with prescribing medication or providing medication management.

A Route to Affordable Counseling

Regardless of the nature of their problems, many potential patients simply cannot afford traditional face-to-face talk therapy. This is not only a matter of not being able to afford the rates charged but also a systemic issue in the health insurance industry. For instance, many health insurance policies do not cover mental health conditions. In other cases, those who do have insurance that covers their mental health care do not want to get treatment because they do not want their employer to know about it. They may fear discrimination or feel that it may affect their future with the company.

Telephone counseling can save individuals thousands of dollars over just a few months of therapy because the cost is more reasonable. Telephone counseling or therapy with is only about $60 to $80 per week (billed monthly) rather than the $250 to $500 per hour that some traditional therapists charge. Why is it so much more affordable?

Because the online therapist does not have as many expenses as the traditional therapist. They do not have to pay for rent or leasing of a therapy office, the employees to run that office, utilities and other expenses for the office like office supplies, and transportation costs. Since they are saving money, they pass these savings on to their patients so they can benefit as well.

Though online counseling is typically not covered by insurance, this is dependent on the platform, insurance company, and particular insurance plan you have. But since many insurance companies have some sort of mental health coverage, it is still worth discussing with them about the possibility of your insurance plan covering online counseling services. 

Convenient and Easy

Additionally, with most counseling practices keeping normal business hours, work obligations can make it very difficult for many people to pursue traditional modes of therapy. While it may have its limitations (no psychiatrist is going to write a prescription for a patient he or she has never seen in person) telephone counseling is a major benefit to many people who would otherwise remain untreated.

Another perk is that many platforms make it easy to switch therapists if your current one is not working well with you. This ensures that you find the best therapist for your needs.

In addition to not being able to prescribe medication, there are a few other circumstances in which telephone counseling simply is not appropriate. With over-the-phone therapy, a mental health professional may encourage a client who is facing mental health issues, may make suggestions about dealing with problems, warn of distorted thinking and offer general encouragement as well as a sympathetic ear.

However, a distance counselor cannot provide a comforting and secure environment, nor provide the reassurance of a physical presence when particularly sensitive or traumatic issues are being discussed. Although the patient does have the option of speaking to their counselor or therapist face to face on a video chat platform such as Facetime or Skype.

In fact, telephone counseling or therapy is just like having a casual conversation with a friend though so it can be a big help in many ways, especially to those who have a hard time getting around. For example, those who are physically impaired or unable to get transportation would benefit greatly from telephone therapy. Especially those who live out in rural areas where there is no public transportation to rely on. It is also a great choice for those who do not have a babysitter or cannot afford to make that trip back and forth to the office.

Who Should Not Use Telephone Counseling?

Anyone who is having suicidal thoughts or has had these thoughts in the past is not recommended to use phone therapy. Anyone experiencing these thoughts or another mental health emergency should call an emergency line or head to a local emergency room.

Also, people who are working through extremely difficult issues and/or experiencing a severe mental health condition may find traditional in-person therapy much more conducive to their healing. However, with video chat, the patient can certainly get intensive and personal treatment where the therapist can see those visual cues that they need.

The decision is really up to the individual patient and their therapist or counselor because everyone’s situation is different and not all therapies are appropriate for everyone. If you just want to talk to someone about your thoughts and feelings, have concerns about your mental or emotional health, or just need a little advice, telephone counseling can be an amazing healing method.

Online Therapy Services From BetterHelp

Could Picking Up The Phone Be The Answer You're Looking For?

As outlined previously, research shows that internet-based therapy platforms, including phone apps and other online resources, are useful counseling tools. A broad-based study of online therapy found that internet-delivered counseling is an effective alternative to traditional face-to-face therapy. Messaging via phone is one of several tools that counselors and patients can utilize with internet-based cognitive-behavioral therapy (ICBT).

Online therapy is also a cost-effective option. Because the licensed counselors at BetterHelp don’t have to pay for expensive office space, sessions are generally cheaper than with face-to-face therapy. Read below for reviews of counselors, from people who have utilized BetterHelp’s app to help manage a variety of mental health issues.

Counselor Reviews

“I just started my sessions with Annie a few weeks ago and I am already making progress. I was nervous to start virtual counseling but I am very happy that I did. She listens and offers helpful advice. Definitely, the most positive experience I have had with counseling so far. Would definitely recommend.”

“Jane has been such a helpful and open listener. I have enjoyed working through some tough conversations with her. She has helped remind me of my humanness and imperfections by recognizing them as 100% normal. Would recommend!”

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