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Professional Advantages and Disadvantages in Telephone Counselling

Updated on March 27, 2013

Professional strengths and limitations appear within telephone counselling, involving training, the theoretical models used, the contract made, the staff used, the therapist’s own limitations, referring clients, and personal boundaries. According to McLennan et al (1994), most training programmes aim to help the therapist develop listening skills that are supportive and non-judgmental. Skills and competencies taught include monitoring voice tone, pitch, and accent, and how body language has an impact on communication even when not seen. Experience, or expertise, in one form of counselling does not necessarily translate into competence in this context (Payne et al, 2006). There are limitations as well as complexities, especially when offering this type of counselling for specific client groups (e.g., crisis intervention, abuse, chronic illnesses, or children).

Payne et al., (2006) stress that the therapist should be in the position, to identify any necessary training and information and that she/he should be aware of research and developments, in this area. There are services which offer counselling to anyone in a broad range of issues; however, most of these services use non-professional volunteers as their main staff, so they offer training programmes tailored depending on approach and length. Due to this, each trainee develops unique characteristics. Moreover, Reese et al (2006) suggest that there is a lack of training offered to the therapist in this context. The BACP (Payne et al 2006) suggests that therapists should take additional training regarding the skills used in telephone therapy, including initial assessment and intake, contracting, being able to define the scope and strengths and weaknesses of telephone counselling, how to end a relationship, and exploring the way in which psychological processes are revealed.

The models which are adapted in Telephone Counselling

The emergence of services offering telephone counselling was based on the need and common belief that such services had a therapeutic and preventative value, rather than on empirical evidence. Thus, the design and implementation of interventions applied were normally based on a series of assumptions concerning what was thought may work. They were not usually theory-informed (Mishara and Diagle, 2001). But what if the assumptions are invalid? Chen (2005) argues that if this occurs the services’ effectiveness will be reduced or–even worse–harmful.

Telephone counselling has been used effectively with various populations displaying diverse needs. Therefore, models used for this type of counselling fall into one of two service types, depending on the type of interaction used, such as recorded or live, and the longevity of the counselling intervention. These include crisis intervention or on-going telephone counselling (Coman et al., 2001). A key model influencing counselling practise in this context is crisis intervention. Telephone counselling does not use a unique model for crisis intervention. According to Roberts (2002, cited in Roberts 2005), the therapeutic model of crisis intervention in telephone counselling is short-term and uses problem-solving approaches.

Moreover, where telephone counselling is available for health and well-being issues, it is argued that cognitive behavioural and person-centred models are adapted. McLeod (1993, cited in Rosenfield 1997) argues that, in cases in which an individual is encouraged to be conscious and control several behavioural aspects, humanistic or cognitive-behavioural theoretical models are more appropriate.

Telephone counselors

The staff used by telephone counselling services—usually volunteers who undertake specific training—support anonymous callers. Callers contact the service one or more times and usually speak to different counsellors. Nevertheless, it is very important for the therapist to acknowledge the differences among types of telephone counselling offering advice, guidance, crisis intervention, and structured counselling. They should at least hold a Diploma in Counselling or a similar area, acknowledge the skills applied when working without visual clues, and must have experience. Telephone counsellors in the United Kingdom, for example, should be part of the British Association for Counselling. However, in order to be accredited by the British Association for Counselling, 450 hours of experience in face-to-face counselling is ideal.

Fake or inappropriate calls are sometimes made, which the therapist must be able to identify. Also, some clients may require another type of therapy that the therapist may not offer. In this case, the therapist must be able to refer them to the most suitable service. There are also cases in which a telephone counsellor must abide by the law and break confidentiality (Rosenfield 1997). For example, if a counsellor notices that a child a parent is talking about is at risk, he/she has the right to refer any information to social services, although the right way is to discuss this with the client first. Furthermore, for a client to proceed to a contract with the therapist, the therapist must identify clear criteria of whether this is suitable. If the therapist doubts that there will be any benefit from telephone therapy, or if the therapist does not seem to have the skills and competencies required for a client, then the therapist should be able to refer the client to more-suitable services, as some cases are not appropriate to be dealt with over a phone. In cases where physical abuse is apparent, for instance, causing overwhelming distress to a client, the therapist must refer the client to the most suitable service for this case. Additionally, with certain client groups, the therapist will be required to use caution in order to avoid the risk of harming the client.


Training is usually undertaken by the counsellor when working with specific client groups. For this reason, clear internal and structural boundaries are crucial. Anonymity is meant to protect therapists and clients. The client may express their emotions due to the confidentiality and directness of telephone counselling. Counselling sessions that exceed many months, are more likely to be inappropriate (Payne et al., 2006). Some behaviour might not be tolerated by counsellors, and they should make their boundaries clear regarding offensive, violent, or abusive clients (Rosenfield 1997). It is recommended that a therapist only work three days in a week, in order to avoid draining themselves, which could be unhealthy.

Moreover, time-keeping is another important boundary; it is appropriate, for the counsellor to inform the client when the session is coming to an end. However, there are services with no time limits, such as the Samaritans (1953) crisis line. Apart from this, Rosenfield (1997) argues that “…boundaries need to be established in a wide range of issues” (p. 73), and it is advised that boundaries be addressed in the first telephone contact, and the counsellor must be clear regarding what could be done and how many sessions will take place. In help-line work, however, the first contact may be the only one.


Counselling by telephone enables therapists to work from several settings. They can choose where and how to do this. Counsellors providing counselling from their own telephone system must be sure that this is satisfactory, and must also assure clients regarding confidentiality.

Counselors in private practice use a separate telephone line in order to avoid disturbances. Thus, the environment used should be quiet in order for counselling to be effective (BACP 2006). The use of headsets, instead of handsets, is more appropriate in sessions lasting up to an hour. With headset equipment, the therapist is less likely to experience injury.

Moreover, when a client is using a mobile phone, several issues may arise, such as low signal or battery failure, driving, and holding a mobile phone. These issues should be discussed by the therapist and client in order to come to an agreement on how to manage them.

The philosophy of telephone counselling services

In addition, the philosophy of this context is humanistic, emphasising relationship development. The therapist should be empathic, warm, and understanding in telephone counselling, with an attitude of unconditional positive regard to the client.

Thus, there are certain codes of ethics that counsellors should follow. In the United Kingdom, practitioners should follow the BACP’s statement of Fundamental Ethical Principles, and undertake supervision of at least one and a half hours per month, covering any issues they may be facing (Payne et al 2006). The supervisor undertakes training for this particular role, having expert power to some degree thus supervision plays a vital role in the development and growth of counsellors (McMahon, 2002).

However, the relationship between the supervisor and the counsellor could be affected by the counsellor’s experience. Counsellors with less experience are more likely to require more support and guidance in the beginning of their development, whereas counsellors with more experience tend to be more critical and are therefore, unsatisfied by supervision.


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    • Chris Achilleos profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Achilleos 

      8 years ago

      Thank you very very much for your kind comments and votes kenneth :) i really appreciate it

    • kenneth avery profile image

      Kenneth Avery 

      8 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      Hi, Chris,

      Great read here! Voted up and all across. This hub was everything--useful, informative and educational. Keep up the great work and I hope that you taste huge portions of happiness and success with your writing.

      And since your profile doesn't have a CONTACT button, I am leaving My Personal Note of Thanks here for you to read.

      Dear Chris,

      I wanted to send you a Special Hello, and to tell you that I am Very Glad that you are in my world. I hope that when you read my hubs, that boredom will not overtake you. And please, write me anytime that you want to. I always love to hear what my Valued-Followers are up to and what they are doing.

      You are an amazing. Talented writer. And I'm positive that your writings will touch many lives as they have mine.

      Please accept My Note of Thanks . . .a SINCERE THANK YOU for following me. I TRULY VALUE my followers and I shall NOT take YOUR Warm Gesture for granted. Hopefully, my hubs will be educational, entertaining, and hopefully, interesting. But I promise you that my hubs will NOT be negative, abusive, or demeaning to anyone.

      If at any time my hubs offend or upset you, simply tell ME FIRST, and I will rectify the situation pronto.

      Again, THANK YOU!

      Sincerely, Kenneth

      Your Friend for Life


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