Medically reviewed by Jill Johnson, DNP, APRN, FNP-BC
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 9/14/2021
It used to be that mental health services and therapy had a fairly standard format — which typically involved visiting a licensed therapist in their office and sitting across from them as you chatted about mental health issues or concerns.
But in today’s super-connected world, therapy isn’t done in just one way. You can receive online therapy via video conferencing, and some mental health professionals even offer text therapy. Another popular way to seek help involves dialing the phone.
Not only can phone therapy be more convenient (sometimes you may not want to do a video chat — say, if you’re out for a walk), but phone sessions also offer the opportunity to get mental health help no matter where you live.
Intrigued by this format of mental health care? Keep reading.
To put it simply, phone therapy is exactly what it sounds like. Rather than visiting a therapist in their office for a session, you can speak to him or her on the phone.
As mentioned above, phone therapy can make mental health help more accessible to a number of people for a number of reasons.
First, if you don’t live near an accredited therapist, hopping on the phone makes seeking help possible.
Phone sessions can also help people who may struggle to find childcare, don’t have reliable transportation, or who have concerns about being seen in a clinician’s office.
Just like with in-person therapy, there are different types of therapy that can be done over the phone.
Some types of therapy include:
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): Cognitive behavioral therapy involves identifying patterns and behaviors that may not be helpful to your life and using problem-solving skills to cope.
Dialectical behavior therapy: Originally used for those with borderline personality disorder, this form of CBT has been found to be effective in treating anxiety.
Interpersonal therapy: People can use this form of therapy to overcome interpersonal issues that may be affecting mental health — like unhealthy relationship issues or strained family dynamics.
Psychodynamic therapy: Past issues may contribute to current feelings, so you’re asked to do lots of reflection in this form of therapy.
A mental health provider will best be able to assess which type of therapy could help, as well as determine if remote sessions are a good option.
It can be! Like any form of therapy, the effectiveness of individual counseling over the phone is reliant on a variety of factors — including finding the right therapist for you and an openness to treatment.
A 2012 study looked at whether CBT over the phone was as effective as in-person sessions for people with major depressive disorder.
The researchers found that participants were more likely to keep their appointments for telephone therapy vs. in-person appointments. Plus, participants in both teletherapy and in-person therapy reported substantial improvement.
The study also showed that both groups of people remained substantially improved after six months. However, people who had done in-person therapy showed slightly fewer depressive symptoms.
It is important to note that more studies are needed to assess how the true efficacy of phone therapy.
Some of the same things that make therapy great can also make it tricky!
The fact that you can receive therapy from home is really convenient — especially if you're juggling busy schedules. However, home therapy sessions can also mean privacy may be hard to come by while you’re on the telephone.
Kids may interrupt you, someone could ring your doorbell, or a spouse could accidentally barge into the room. All of these distractions could break up the flow of a therapy session.
Because of this, it’s important to find as private a space as possible for your teletherapy appointment.
Another downside of phone therapy is that you may not have any transition time. The American Psychological Association (APA) points out that the travel time to and from in-person sessions allows for a natural transition period.
Whereas with teletherapy, you could go straight from a work call to therapy and have no time to recalibrate.
If possible, schedule some free time before and after over-the-phone therapy sessions, so you have a bit of a breather in between the rest of your life and your mental-health help.
Mobile phones can also distract you while you’re engaging in phone therapy. Your phone could buzz from a text message, someone could call or you could get news alerts that pop-up. All of these things can make it hard to stay in the moment.
The APA suggests turning off all notifications on mobile phones before the start of a session.
Finally, it could be hard to read someone over the phone. As humans, we often rely on visual cues to help us communicate and form that therapeutic relationship.
Not being able to see your therapist could be tough at first. But give it time!
The more you chat on the phone, the more you’ll get to know one another’s verbal cues and you should begin feeling more comfortable.
Therapy — however you do it — is a great tool to help you live a happier, more secure life. Many people gravitate toward phone therapy sessions because they are convenient.
While research is limited, what has been conducted suggests that teletherapy can be as effective as traditional therapy in terms of addressing mental health concerns.
If you wind up engaging in therapy over the phone, there are some steps you can take to ensure your sessions are as effective as possible.
You’ll want to limit distractions by making sure you have privacy and turning off phone alerts. It’s also a good idea to give yourself time before and after your appointments to wind down.
If you are interested in trying phone therapy, speak with a licensed online therapist about whether it’s a good option for you.
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