Video vs phone counselling: what’s right for your organisation?

Video vs phone counselling: what’s right for your organisation?

4th August 2022

By Connect Assist

If your idea of counselling is lying on a sofa while someone asks you about your relationship with your mother, think again!

Times have moved on since the days of Sigmund Freud. Technology has advanced and the pandemic has meant that much counselling has shifted from face-to-face sessions to phone or online video calls. 

So which method is best for your organisation? We’ve taken a look at some of the stats, and drawn on our own expertise of offering befriending, emotional support and counselling services, to bring you our guide to video and phone counselling.

What is telehealth?

Telehealth is not about watching the TV while lifting weights (do slices of cake count? Asking for a friend). It’s healthcare, including counselling, that’s delivered remotely. 

And a new analysis from McKinsey in April 2020, at the height of the pandemic, found that telehealth usage for GP surgery and outpatient clinic services was a whopping 78 times higher than two months previously. 

Of course, many of those in-person services are open once again. But telehealth usage has stabilised at 38 times what it was before the pandemic. Now, some 17% of all such visits take place remotely – and for psychiatric services, that figure is 50%. 

Those figures are from the USA, but NHS figures show that 71% of routine GP appointments were delivered remotely in the first few weeks of the pandemic. 

And a separate survey among clinicians in both America and the UK found that 78% believe that telehealth will make up the majority of healthcare in the near future.

In-person and remote therapy: shared principles

Before we delve into the differences between phone and video, we’d just like to say a few words of reassurance.

Just because a counsellor operates online or over the phone, it doesn’t mean they’re not fully qualified. They should be registered with an official body such as the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) or the National Counselling Society (NCS)

Plus, no matter how therapy is delivered, it must abide by strict legal and ethical guidelines. 

And finally there’s a fair bit of research to suggest that receiving counselling remotely is just as effective as face-to-face, at least for people with certain mental health conditions. So it’s no wonder that most counsellors are happy to offer both remote and in-person services. 

In-person versus remote therapy

The pandemic is easing (fingers crossed!) and we can meet in person again (hooray!). So why have some organisations decided to continue offering counselling remotely?

First of all, accessibility. Not everyone can easily get to a counselling practice: e.g. people with disabilities or mobility issues, or those who live remotely. 

Then there’s convenience. Many of us prefer to access counselling from the comfort of our sofa, rather than struggling across town in rush-hour traffic between finishing work and taking the kids to swimming lessons!

Affordability is another key plus point. Counselling services may be able to reduce their overheads, such as room rental and energy bills – and in 2022, who doesn’t want to do that? They could pass on savings to clients, too. 

Don’t forget approachability. Many people find it intimidating to sit in a room just feet away from a counsellor – at home, they feel more at ease. If you’re comfortable using tech, which is the case for young people in particular, then counselling via your laptop or phone feels very natural. 

And finally, Covid is still here, and some people – especially those who are clinically vulnerable – prefer to avoid face-to-face meetings.

Of course, there are cons as well. It can be hard to find a quiet spot at home, away from the distractions and demands of family and flatmates. There are cyber-security concerns, too. And for some mental health issues, particularly serious ones, it really might be better to have face-to-face support. 

Video counselling

So, have we convinced you to go remote? Great! Now it’s up to you to decide exactly what that looks (or sounds) like. 

Video counselling can take place via any number of platforms, e.g. Zoom or Teams. All you and your client need is a device, a reliable internet connection, and a private space. It’s important to check privacy settings, and it’s best if both parties wear headphones in case of interruption. 

With video calls, counsellors can pick up on body language cues: tension, nervousness, fear and so on. These are all vital clues in building up a bigger picture of a client’s emotions. During pauses, visual cues give the counsellor a better idea of when to wait, and when to prompt. 

In fact, many counsellors prefer to run initial consultations by video even if they later switch to phone. It helps the counsellor and client get to know each other a little, and puts the client at ease. Being able to put a face to a name is a remarkably powerful thing!

For clients who are Deaf or hearing impaired, video counselling makes lip reading and British Sign Language possible. Many platforms today today offer automated live captions, and there’s always the option of using the chat function to clarify any issues. 

Phone counselling

But phones have their fans as well.  

For people who don’t have any quiet space at home, it might be possible to take a walk or sit on a park bench with a smartphone. In fact, some people might find this relieves tension and helps them open up more. 

Some clients don’t have reliable internet connection, or a good quality device. They may not feel at ease using technology, or be concerned about cybersecurity issues. Phone for them is the better option. 

And many of us actually find it easier to open up and speak about emotional issues when we can’t see or be seen by the counsellor. We won’t be searching their face for signs of disapproval, worrying about our messy hair, or worrying that we’ll bump into them in Tesco’s!

However, there are a few concerns, too. It’s possible for the client (or the counsellor) to get distracted if they know they can’t be seen: they might start multitasking, rather than focusing on the session. 

Then there are privacy and confidentiality issues. Counsellors can’t tell if the client is alone: they should ask at the beginning of the session, but won’t know if someone else comes into the room midway. It’s wise, therefore, to suggest that the client wears headphones so the counsellor’s voice cannot be heard to others nearby. 

So many counsellors feel that phone counselling is best reserved for quick check-ins rather than hour-long sessions. 

But ultimately, there are pros and cons for each type of counselling: the choice is up to the service provider, the counsellors, and the clients themselves. We hope this whistle-stop guide has given you food for thought…

Connect Assist counselling services

At Connect Assist, we’ve got teams of qualified and experienced counsellors running services on behalf of several organisations. 

They provide solutions-focused therapy by phone, video or email. They can also refer on to in-person services, or signpost to other sources of support. 

To find out more about our befriending, counselling and emotional support services, get in touch today.


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