Coaching Online or in Person — Does the Setting Matter?

What the research says:

At this point, there is quite a bit of research on this question, for example showing that coaching over the phone or through online channels can be very effective, that adequate rapport can be established between a counselor and client, and that some clients prefer the reduced stigma and easier access offered by online mental health services.

For more in depth discussion, this handbook addresses many practical aspects of online counseling, such as technological, ethical, legal and multicultural issues, treatment strategies, and testing and assessment:

Kraus, R., Stricker, G., & Speyer, C. (Eds.). (2010). Online counseling: A handbook for mental health professionals. Academic Press.

My own experience:

While I do enjoy in-person meetings with clients, more so than phone sessions, I often find that phone sessions can be even more focused and efficient. What I really like from the coach/counselor perspective is my freedom to take notes (writing, drawing graphs and charts to clarify my own thoughts while listening) without needing to worry about maintaining eye contact with the client. Of course the client may do the same, which can also help. What I don’t like about the phone or video are moments of bad tone or image quality. For those reasons, I prefer simple phone over video calls, because the video deprives me of that freedom to look away; it often worsens the sound quality; and – at least for me – usually doesn’t add anything to the rapport or even simply the enjoyment of the session (some clients feel differently though, in which case I’m happy to do video sessions).

To sum up, phone coaching or counseling is a excellent option for those who care mostly about focus and efficiency and less about the feel-good factor of the sessions. Of course, it’s also a great choice for anybody who is looking for a specialist. In my case, I have been very happy to work with people who did not find any coaches or counselors in their hometown with a similar background and focus on decision making or goal achievement.

If you have done any online coaching or counseling, either as a client or professional, I would love to hear about your experience.

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