Are we embracing a new and more convenient way of accessing therapy due to the pandemic?

Back February 5th, 2021

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, we have all been getting used to a different way of living, working and interacting with the world. Due to the nature of COVID-19 it has meant that many of those changes will have a long-lasting impact on how we do things.

One of the immediate changes brought about by the first lockdown in the UK last spring, was the cancellation of any face-to-face Anxiety UK therapy appointments, resulting in only phone or online referrals being available. In order to evaluate the impact of this, we recently surveyed more than 300 clients who had accessed or are currently accessing Anxiety UK’s telephone-based therapy services.

Interestingly, while only 34% reported choosing phone support due to the restrictions in place, overall 89% of respondents said they would highly recommend accessing telephone-based therapy; urging others to simply give it a try, especially during the uncertainty of the pandemic when face-to-face therapy is not accessible.

The survey also highlighted the main reasons for accessing telephone-based therapy in comparison to face-to-face therapy as being convenience and speed of access in 61% of those who responded.

When it came to their preferred treatment, most respondents have/are accessing Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) at 47%, followed by Counselling 44% and Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT) 9% – all approaches available through Anxiety UK’s nationally available, therapy service.

The survey found that 17% of those who accessed phone support did not have any preconceptions about therapy before starting treatment. However, of those that did, some themes emerged including believing it would be harder to open up or connect via telephone, that face-to-face therapy works better than any other type of therapy and that telephone-based therapy would be less effective.

Nevertheless, on completion of therapy, most respondents (67%) found that their experience was vastly different from their preconceptions. Themes that contravened the initial preconceptions were that the majority of those accessing telephone-based therapy found it much easier to open up and to talk to someone over the phone rather than in a face-to-face capacity.

For most respondents, advantages of accessing telephone therapy included it being more anonymous, flexible and convenient; with the ability to access support from the comfort of your own home. For many, not having to travel, saving time and having therapy in a familiar environment where you feel more relaxed, essentially outweighed the benefits of face-to-face therapy.

Some respondents indicated that there were some disadvantages when accessing telephone-based therapy, such as, poor telephone reception, distractions at home or not being able to fully see the person can create obstacles when trying to establish a rapport or connection. It is therefore important to recognise that some people will need to allow more time to build a rapport with a therapist when accessing support via the telephone.

When accessing therapy delivered by phone, it is essential to check that you have a good reception and the therapist should discuss with you alternative ways of contacting you if the connection fails. Moreover, it is highly important to ensure that you have safe and confidential space for therapy. A therapist can also setup a code or a safe word that you can use in the event when you are unable to speak due to someone entering the room/space which you are using during your therapy session.

When asked which delivery mode respondents would opt for in the future, 62% said they would choose telephone-based therapy, 23% face-to-face therapy and 15% online based therapy.

Whilst the stigma surrounding telephone-based therapy is still deeply embedded within the healthcare system, this survey shows that convenience, flexibility and anonymity are the main advantages of therapy delivered via telephone.

Due to the pandemic, more people have decided to access telephone-based therapy and those who were hesitant about trying telephone therapy before COVID-19 are now more willing to give it a try. Perhaps, telephone-based therapy will become more popular as we all get used to communicating in different ways.

For more information about Anxiety UK’s therapy services, visit: https://www.anxietyuk.org.uk/get-help/access-therapy/

Footnote Please note, that clinical hypnotherapy is not included in the survey as it is only available online and not via phone via Anxiety UK’s therapy service.