Counselling is not just about face-to-face appointments. Many counsellors offer sessions through online platforms or appointments by telephone.

Even though you’re not in the same room, the counsellor or psychotherapist can still help you to explore how you’re feeling, understand what you are going through and support you to make changes in your life if you need to.

Sometimes people choose online or telephone counselling appointments because it’s easier for them to access or fits with their lifestyle or working hours better.

The coronavirus pandemic and Government restrictions on leaving your home mean many counsellors are offering online or telephone appointments instead of face-to-face sessions.

“Many people find online counselling useful as another way to express themselves,” says our member Rakhi Chand.

How do I know my therapist is qualified in telephone or online counselling?

Take a look at their website or our Therapist directory listing to see whether they have detailed training or qualifications that are specific to telephone or online counselling.

As well as choosing a counsellor who is a member of a body with an accredited register such as BACP, look out for registration with the Association of Counselling and Therapy Online (ACTO).

What to expect from telephone counselling

Rakhi explains that when arranging telephone counselling with a client, she ensures the conversation will be private and safe.

“I need the client to have a suitable and private space from which to take the call,” she says.

“You need a confidential and quiet space to speak from, where you won't be interrupted or overheard. And preferably not your bed!”

She also asks clients for an emergency name and contact number, as well as GP details.

Sometimes people meet their counsellor in person first for an assessment. Others prefer telephone from the outset - for both assessment and talking through how it will work.

What to expect from online counselling

Online counselling is carried out via secure and encrypted web platforms. Just like telephone counselling you'll need a private space to have the conversation.

Use a laptop, computer, or tablet if possible (and you may need to make sure that your device’s microphone and camera are working). Stabilise your device on a flat surface rather than holding it, for minimal disruption or distraction.

When you and your therapist are both connected by video link, you’ll probably spend a few minutes checking the camera position is ok and that you can both see and hear each other.

Your therapist will discuss how it’s going to work and should also ensure you know what to do if the connection is interrupted.

How can it help?

An important part of counselling is that you feel heard and understood. This is no different for face-to-face, online and telephone counselling.

The sessions – however they are carried out – should offer you a safe space to talk about your feelings without judgment.

Your therapist will support you to become aware of what you feel and why you feel this way, and help you to understand what you can do about it.

What can telephone and online counselling help with?

Telephone and online counselling can help with many of the same issues as face-to-face counselling, such as anxiety, stress, depression, self-esteem and confidence issues, loss and family relationship problems. But it's not suitable for everyone.

“If you're feeling particularly unwell or desperate, it is better that you try to get some face-to-face support if possible. In case of emergency contact your GP or local Accident and Emergency service,” says Rakhi.

How do therapists maintain a strong connection or relationship with a client when it’s not face-to-face?

One of the most important things about counselling is the relationship you have with your therapist.

You may think that this is undermined when you’re not in the same room as your counsellor, or if you can’t see them.

But Rakhi says there are things therapists do to help create that connection and build a relationship when it comes to telephone sessions.

“I'm mindful of taking in as much information as I can with just sound - tone, volume, cadence and anything else I can sense to 'get' where the other person is,” she says.

“I might describe what they can't see, for example, 'I'm just taking a sip of water'. I always to sit in the same area and dress as I would do for an in-person or online video client. I find all these aspects impact on how I relate to my client.”

Your stories

Self-help tips and advice from our members

Already having counselling?

If you're already having therapy, your counsellor may suggest moving your sessions online so your therapy can continue.

If you’re worried about changing from face-to-face to online or telephone counselling, talk to your therapist about your concerns. They can answer any questions you may have and help support you through the transition.

You can also speak to our Ask Kathleen if you feel uncomfortable discussing your concerns directly with your counsellor. Our guidance provides information on some common concerns or you can contact us by email on ask@bacp.co.uk or call 07811 762114 or 07811 762256.