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Template:Mergefrom Telephone counseling refers to any type of psychological service performed over the telephone. Telephone counseling ranges from individual, couple or group psychotherapy with a professional therapist to psychological first aid provided by para-professional counselors. In-person therapists often advise clients to make use of telephone crisis counseling to provide the client with an avenue to obtain support outside of therapy if they cannot be reached in an emergency or at the conclusion of a therapeutic relationship.

Professional counseling by telephone

Researchers have begun observing a growing trendTemplate:Clarifyme in which licensed psychotherapists and psychologists are now seeing at least some of their clients via the telephone.[1] A body of research exists comparing the efficacy of telephone counseling to in-person counseling and to no treatment. A recent study found that more than half of clients (58%) who had experienced both in-person and phone counseling preferred phone counseling.[2] A 2002 study found that phone counseling clients rate their counseling relationship similarly to in-person clients.[3] Phone counseling has been established as an effective treatment for diagnoses ranging from depression[4] to agoraphobia.[5]

Crisis hotlines

"Crisis" hotlines also provide telephone support services. These may be state-funded or provided by churches or charities and often serve the primary function of suicide prevention. However, many lines also accept calls from people who are not in active suicidal crisis. The term "emotional support helpline" is sometimes used to avoid the implication that a caller must be in crisis to use services. Some emotional support services employ email & messaging technologies.[6]


Quitlines are helplines that offer advanced treatment for addiction and behavior change. Quitlines should not be confused with centralized call centers offering advice in a wide spectrum of fields for the purpose of receiving and transmitting a large volume of requests.

Child helplines

Child helplines specialise in offering information, support, advice or counselling to people 18 years of age or younger. Child Helpline International, an international network of child helplines, was formed in 2003 to support the development of child helplines and enable the information gathered by child helplines around the world on children's rights and welfare issues to be assembled for advocacy purposes.

Advantages over in-person therapy

Unlike other forms of counseling, telephone counseling is potentially free of certain constraining factors that affect traditional therapy, including geography, time, duration, and cost, making this form of counseling more accessible for a number of people who would be unable to attend traditional psychotherapy. It also provides a degree of anonymity that is comforting to some callers, reducing the intimidation that some people may feel at the prospect of seeking treatment with a traditional in-person therapist and encouraging disclosure.

Disadvantages over in-person therapy

Being physically present with your counselor may help you feel more connected with him or her; the telephone may contribute to "distance" in the therapeutic relationship. Some people feel safer letting themselves become emotional in the physical presence of another person.

Because the client often calls from a location that is part of their day-to-day life, calls often center around, or are interrupted by, situational pressures that the person is currently immersed in. This can have both positive and negative effects on the counseling provided; by allowing the counselor some insight into the person's situation, the counselor can be more objective. Conversely, the disruptions and pressures of situational factors may make it difficult for the client to adopt a reflective state or maintain full focus on the counseling session.

In the case of para-professional counseling (meaning a non-licensed therapist), there may not be guaranteed privacy; the electronic technologies involved make it difficult to prevent multiple phone connections, loudspeakers, or recording of the interactions. This fact may present a problem to a paranoid personality who suspects that others are monitoring his or her calls.

If the counseling is provided by an organization staffed by a number of employees or volunteers, a repeat caller cannot develop a relationship with a counselor in the same way as in traditional therapy, which may impede progress. These organizations typically limit calls in time and frequency, preventing deeper analysis and thus the use of therapeutic modalities that depend on it (i.e. psychoanalysis).

Phone counseling is not appropriate for people who are homicidal, suicidal, self injuring, or requiring more care than one session per week. Phone counselors may not be acquainted with local emergency service options.[1] Counselors at locally operated suicide hotlines are trained in emergency services and acquainted with local resources.

Examples of nonprofit telephone counseling services

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Barnett, J.; Scheetz, K. (2003). Technological advances and telehealth: Ethics, law, and the practice of psychotherapy. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training. 40(1-2), 86-93
  2. Reese, R., Conoley, C., Brossart, D. (2006) The Attractiveness of Telephone Counseling: An Empirical Investigation of Client Perceptions. Journal of Counseling & Development. 84:1, 54-60.
  3. Reese, R; Conoley, C.; Brossart, D.(2002). Effectiveness of Telephone Counseling: A Field-Based Investigation. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 49:2, 233-242
  4. Lynch DJ, Tamburrino MB, Nagel R. (1997). Telephone counseling for patients with minor depression: preliminary findings in a family practice setting. J Fam Pract. 44(3):293-8.
  5. Tutty S, Simon G, Ludman E. (2000). Telephone counseling as an adjunct to antidepressant treatment in the primary care system. A pilot study. Eff Clin Pract. 3(4):191-3.
  6. Samaritans. "Email services". Retrieved 2009-07-11.


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