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Personal Advantages and Disadvantages of Telephone Counselling

Updated on June 25, 2014

Telephone counselling: therapist and client

Several advantages and disadvantages appear in telephone counselling regarding the personal experience of both the therapist and the client. Existing literature points out a number of strengths, such as caller anonymity, which reduces the psychological barrier that discourages many individuals from seeking help, enabling the caller to feel free to talk (Masi and Freedman, 2001; Ee and Lowe, 2005; Gilat and Shahar, 2007), and the power of clients to terminate any interaction whenever they like enables them to have more control of the situation (Coman, Burrows and Evans 2001; Gilat and Shahar 2007).

Accessibility of calls by any person, regarding any issue, makes it easier to decide to seek help. Twenty-four hour services enable clients to receive help from where they are most comfortable, whether in their own home or any other location with telephone access. Geographical barriers are excluded, as callers may receive help wherever they are. Finally, it is a convenient, affordable way to receive necessary or desired counselling.

Ethical concerns, visual cues, beliefs and technical limitations

While telephone counselling use increases, some ethical concerns have arisen. Confidentiality issues have been pointed out, as confidentiality cannot be guaranteed with telephone counselling because calls on cordless or cellular phones might be overheard or recorded (Masi and Freeman 2001).

Although an advantage, at one point, the lack of visual cues is also a complex issue, with several counselors not believing that counselling could be effectively conducted for this reason (Rosenfield 1997). Soet and Basch (1997) argue that most social meaning between individuals is in the form of visual–rather than verbal–cues. A lack of this information hinders the understanding of counselors and clients. This makes passing complex information over the phone very challenging.

A therapist’s beliefs may be challenged or even threatened by a caller’s beliefs; if this happens, the therapist must be careful not to discriminate against callers with differing beliefs. They must also consider a parent’s beliefs regarding the safety and well-being of their children. For example, a parent might argue that it is acceptable to hit their child because it teaches the child discipline, while the telephone counsellor’s belief is that it causes harm and unnecessary pain to a child.

Thus, diverse beliefs can cause conflict in the therapist-client relationship. Moreover, telephone counselling may also give the impression of a distant interaction impacting an emotional connection. Sangha et al (2003) found that this could cause higher levels of anxiety in clients after phone counselling vice face-to-face counselling.

Therefore, Lidbetter, Easton and Gask (2010) state that there are also several technical limitations affecting the interaction, like differences in accents or interference in the phone lines of the client or counsellor.


As there are no geographical limitations to telephone counselling, Payne et al (2006) argue that counselors should be comfortable and have experience working with individuals from different cultures. A counsellor working in a crisis prevention line may believe that suicide is the easy way out, causing conflict when working with a client who is about to commit suicide. The counselor might end up saying something which in their belief, is right and helpful but may in fact, be harmful. A lot of peoples’ beliefs relate to their cultural background or religion, so having knowledge about different cultures gives the counsellor a better understanding of their clients. Additionally, knowing a client’s race, gender, religious beliefs, age, and/or sexual orientation minimises the counsellor’s risk of making incorrect assumptions about the client. When it comes to domestic violence or abuse however, the counsellor must be trained in order to be in a position to see if these are issues a client faces.

Further, there are services providing support for people with disabilities that have installed texting systems that allow clients to write their thoughts and feelings if they lack the ability of verbally communicating such information. Again, however, this again could cause issues due to the lack of visual information. Headsets are also apparently used; this could help those with disabilities that do not allow them to hold a phone (Rosenfield 1997).

Therapists emotional well-being

Lacking visual cues and not knowing the outcome of treatment may cause frustration or disillusionment for a counsellor, especially in situations like crisis intervention. This is mostly common with volunteer counsellors with a lack of self-efficacy towards counselling.

However, there are also times when therapists become emotionally full from helping others, and therefore, face several issues within this context. First, counsellors undergo high initial levels of ambiguity because of the lack of nonverbal information. Second, they experience time pressures in order to reach a solution. Finally, therapists go through emotional intensity due to the situations they face, as individuals who work in positions that provide services to other individuals are mostly vulnerable to burnout (Haddad 1998). Accordingly, symptoms of burnout are emotional exhaustion, feeling tired and drained, and de-personalisation.

Experience plays a crucial factor in the counsellor’s emotional exhaustion, as younger counsellors are more vulnerable than older counsellors (Ross, Altmaier and Russell, 1989), because younger counsellors are not very familiar with the job role and suffer stress from this ambiguity, whereas counsellors with more experience raise more realistic expectations, helping reduce the likelihood of emotional over-involvement with clients (Kruger, Botman and Goodenow, 1991).


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    • Chris Achilleos profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Achilleos 

      8 years ago

      thank you for the tip Luis, very much appreciated :)

    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 

      8 years ago from Miami, Florida

      Informative hub. You do not need to underline words. Readers appreciate a cleaner hub more .

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