What does the research say about the differences of phone-based counselling?
Counsellors and psychotherapists have long expressed concern about engaging in phone/audio-only counselling: the criticisms focus on the negative potential impact of the absence of visual cues on both their understanding of what is going on (and the ability to judge risk), as well as the therapeutic relationship.
However, Irvine et al.’s (2020) review of research on interactional aspects of phone-based counselling found little evidence of difference between phone/audio-only and face-to-face counselling in terms of therapeutic alliance, disclosure, empathy, attentiveness or participation. When considering this, remember that one-third of the studies in the researcher’s review were 30-plus years old, while others were based on small samples or were potentially of low quality.
In other words, it may be that there is not enough good or recent research to really know whether there might be differences. Alternatively, there really may not be differences in, for example, measured empathy – but counsellors and psychotherapists may still be expressing empathy in different ways on the phone versus face-to-face.
So how might working on the phone be different? Engage in the next activity to find out more.
Activity 15: Clinical considerations for working on the phone
Listen to the following audio and answer the question below.
What potential benefits and difficulties of phone-based counselling were mentioned?
Potential advantages include:
- the anonymity afforded to clients
- phone/audio-only counselling may allow clients to ‘get to the nitty-gritty’ more quickly
- it may allow a greater focus on the self, because the counsellor is not visible.
Potential disadvantages (for both clients and counsellors) include how to understand silence.
You should now move on to Topic 6: Text-based counselling.
5 Audio-only and phone-based counselling