Therapy-by-phone comes of age

Tonic in the news >   The corona virus lockdown is acting as a barrier to anxious patients visiting their therapists at a time when they are needed more than ever. As a result the spotlight is falling on a solution which has been frowned on for years. Therapy-by-phone.

More than a decade ago Tonic launched Britain’s first therapy-by-phone service in Britain. Our raison d’être was to bring hypnotherapy to the point of need. As the stressed and anxious are more often than not suffering from time poverty, the service offered help without requiring a time consuming visit to a clinic.

Suffering from dental phobia? Then phone a therapist from the waiting room. Suffering aerophobia? Then phone a therapist from the departure lounge. Pre-exam nerves? Then …. well, you get the idea.

Those ideals remain unchanged, with our unique selling points being expediency and anonymity.

All those years ago the vast majority of hypnotherapists welcomed the therapy-by-phone initiative. In truth, this was not because they thought remote therapy was better. It was because it enabled them to boost their own income at times to suit them while working from home. Plus there were no overheads.

As one therapist responded, “I see the future of therapy as telephone based work and I have worked over the phone for the last few years. I have not ‘seen’ any clients in the flesh but have put in 1000s of hours of therapeutic practice. People don’t want the hassle of having to get to places, park etc – they want to be at home and unwind properly”.

Horrified therapist

But there were therapy-by-phone dissenters. One distinguished Scottish hypnotherapist who was invited to join stresstonic.com responded, “I am sorry but I could not possibly do this. As a hypnotherapist I am a face to face person, this is where you gather so much of your information and read the client’s body language which you could not do by phone.

“I think this kind of thing is another good reason for hypnosis to be regulated to protect the client.  I cannot imagine being a remote Practitioner. It is against all I do in my Practice! This has a Samaritan feel to it and is as far from hypnotherapy as you could get”.

StressTonic agrees with these concerns!  Remote therapists indeed miss out on visual cues, gestures and speech intonations. Thus remote therapy’s strength is also its weakness — without nonverbal cues, communications between the participants have a greater potential for being misunderstood.

In addition, online services have difficulty screening faraway clients, which could lead to situations in which a therapist makes things worse.

The truth is therapy-by-phone will always be second best to face-to-face therapy and is totally unsuitable for clients requiring more in-depth and concentrated help.

A therapy First Aid service

StressTonic simply sets out to be a First Aid service for those with an immediate problem for which complementary therapy would help.

But the world has moved on since those pioneering days. Now the Media, including The Lancet, are publishing surveys and research in praise of numerous types of remote psychotherapy and talking therapies.

In the private sector immediate access to people who care has never been in greater demand. There is phenomenal growth across the world in video therapy chats, counselling apps and text-based counselling.

On-line counselling service like PlusGuidance, the doctor app Babylon, the US-based service BetterHelp and the online counselling platform Talkspace, are just a few of those setting the pace in internet psychotherapy. The latest kid on the block is myonlinetherapy, which is being heavily advertised.

Telepsychology in a brave new world

Sorry, but the ghastly term telepsychology has become mainstream! The way new technologies are changing how we access therapy is enough to make Freud turn in his grave! For example, a US app called Happy is promoting itself as the ‘the Uber of emotional support, connecting lonely and distressed people to ordinary folks with extraordinary listening skills‘.

Even the NHS advocates telemedicine. It offers remote diagnosis and treatment, albeit in its case this is likely based on funding cuts. Certainly remote talking therapies are an excellent way to reduce waiting lists (and costs)!

Remote therapy has come of age. Indeed, StressTonic itself has become ‘old school’ finding itself out flanked by the newer app-based therapy sites. Its success is now based on being seen as a service with a proven track record offering a personal touch with quality control; all its therapists are accredited.

Like all clinic based therapists, Tonic has worked hard to earn respect. Its status as a trusted therapy-by-phone service is due in no small measure to the enthusiasm of its independent therapists, who have uploaded in excess of 1000 Postings onto this Blog.

The unrivalled size of this database on everything to do with therapy, is our most valuable marketing asset.

Remote therapy is always 2nd best

So has face-to-face-therapy had its day? “Definitely not, as no therapy is better than sitting with a client – talking, listening, empathising,” explains a StressTonic therapist. “Remote therapy always comes off second best, but needs must. The expediency, immediacy, the anonymous nature and the fact that tech-based therapy services are usually less expensive, are major advantages.

“Certainly our younger clients say they like the disinhibition effect, where they feel more comfortable opening up and discussing problems when online. It is this anonymity which makes essential helplines – like Samaritans – so successful“.

But the concerns of the Scottish hypnotherapist are more important than ever. The new breed of remote therapy services are targeting the vulnerable, many of whom have mental health problems. These people are crying out for someone to talk to and query neither the quality of therapy or qualifications of those offering it * .

Cowboy therapists take advantage of anonymity

When using online therapy terms like ‘psychotherapist’ and ‘counsellor’ are not protected titles, which means anyone without qualifications can claim to be a therapist. And what safeguards are there for their personal data?

Snake oil salesmen have not gone away – they are just using a different disguise.

Certainly some of the claims being made by online therapy services are cause for concern. One boasts … ‘you can just tap a button and hear a voicea person who will give you as much time as you need’. Another states that ‘therapeutic help should be a free process on a par with getting your hair cut. Therapy isn’t for the select or distressed few – we believe in therapy for all’.

So what about the future? “With technology moving so fast it is anyone’s guess,” says the stresstonic.com spokesman. “My money would be on virtual reality therapists.

“Certain if we were launching a new service today it would have to be based on a mobile app. We have yet to make that investment.

“Also we are criticised for having no instant gratification Social Media site, but that is because we want our clients to slow down. We don’t want them to live their lives on Facebook.

“Maybe for us therapists the answer is not to embrace the latest techno ways of communicating. The slogan in our office states …. ‘For fast acting stress relief – try slowing down’.  If that is not possible, instead of opening an app, those seeking therapy would be safer, save money and get equally good results with some low tech munching cupcakes or popping bubblewrap therapy!

“But whatever the future, the genie is out of the bottle. The coronavirus is a reality and therapy-by-phone is of short term benefit to client and therapist alike. As a profession we should put our efforts into how to regulate remote therapy, rather than trying to discredit it”.

Post coronavirus nothing will ever be better than the oldest technology of all – a human caring voice and face.

Footnote > * Tonic only works with therapists who are registered with the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC).

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