I’ll be honest: the idea of therapy has often been attractive to me, not least because I like the idea of going somewhere midday and lying on a couch. But today the types of therapy available are changing. According to a recent study, “phone therapy” can be as effective as face-to-face therapy. Talking is cathartic (as anyone with a best friend knows) but how does phone therapy work? I spoke with art and photo therapist Kelly Gauthier and psychotherapist Kimberly Moffit to get the lowdown.
Q: What is phone therapy and when is it used?
KM: Phone therapy is a form of counselling where the therapist and client speak over the phone instead of meeting in person. It can be used for a few reasons: A person has unique or extenuating circumstances that prevent them from being able to attend in-person sessions on a weekly basis such as a physical injury, a rural location, a busy mom with kids, or a job that requires lots of traveling. Some therapists will only use phone therapy when they have met the client in-person before, in order to make a full and proper assessment before the therapy starts.
KG: Most of my clients feel phone sessions are much more relaxed than regular office visits because they are given the choice of environment in which they wish to conduct the session. Many of my clients choose home as their therapeutic space, while others feel more comfortable in their local coffee shop. Regardless of the environment, the option to choose leaves the client feeling more comfortable and in control, which is ideally the best way to begin a session. The only requirement that I have for my clients in choosing a space is that the space provides enough privacy for them to be able to discuss what needs to be discussed.
Q: Does phone therapy have any unique benefits?
KM: There can even be benefits for therapeutic process for certain clients: For example, people who are especially shy can reveal their thoughts and feelings without having somebody staring back at them. This can be a great start to resolving the issues!
Research shows, however, that some essence of the therapeutic experience can be lost over the phone. Things such as facial expressions, empathy, and warmth can be completely lost in translation. Also, part of the therapeutic experience is feedback: where the therapist shares their unique interpretations and perceptions of the person (how they come across, what signals they exhibit to the outside world, etc). Skype therapy has also taken flight in the therapeutic world which has some of the same perks as phone therapy but with the benefit that the client and therapist can see each other’s facial expressions.
Q: Who is the best candidate for phone therapy?
KG: Once a therapist is confident that a client is capable of conducting phone therapy, then and only then, will the phone sessions begin. I typically see clients at least once in office prior to phone therapy so that I can assess and determine whether phone therapy is in fact the best course of action or for that matter even suited to the client’s issues and needs.
KM: In my opinion, nothing beats the feeling of sitting on a therapist’s leather couch, sipping a cup of tea, and feeling completely removed from your normal, everyday world. If you’ve had this before, you will understand the differences between the two, and recognize when an in-person visit is needed.