Therapy/Life Coaching: Not Friendship

Q: Isn’t coaching by phone (or email, or online chat) a bad idea, since the therapist/coach is unable to see the facial expressions and body movements of the client?


A: According to a cognitive-behavioral therapist, the basic purpose of therapy is to help a person identify and change mistaken thoughts, premises, and behaviors so that emotional conflict and distress can be alleviated. It is not necessary to see facial expressions and body movements in order to help an individual achieve this goal.

In fact, talking by telephone (or otherwise) can even be an advantage. People are usually very self-conscious and anxious when seeing a therapist. It makes them feel more comfortable not to face the therapist when revealing very personal facts and emotions to a stranger. In my own experience, clients open up much more quickly when I do personal coaching with them by telephone than is the case in face-to-face encounters. And the written word can be very powerful. People can often grasp complex emotional issues more objectively when they see them in writing.

Revealing emotions is a crucial part of cognitive-behavioral therapy. Not only does expression of emotions make the client feel better; emotions are the ‘raw data’ the therapist needs to draw upon in order to find out what errors in thinking are causing the psychological conflicts.

To many therapists, especially those trained in traditional, Freudian-oriented approaches, the very notion of personal coaching by phone represents anathema. Whether they label themselves as Freudian or not, they uncritically accept the Freudian premise that the personal relationship between the therapist and client is the most crucial component of therapy.

They do not view therapy as a primarily practical, solution-focused, objective method for resolving conflicts and problems. Instead, they see therapy as a neo-mystical bond between therapist and client, with establishing and maintaining the bond as a therapeutic end in itself. Because his or her main goal is to emotionally connect with the client, rather than evaluate the client’s thinking and behavior, the relationship-centered therapist considers life-coaching by phone too ‘impersonal’ to be productive.

Although a good emotional connection between therapist/coach and client can certainly contribute to progress, over-emphasizing it will result in a much more expensive, longer-term process than necessary.

This bonding also comes at the psychological cost of an unhealthy dependence of the client upon the therapist/coach (or even vice-versa).

If you are seeking counseling and dislike the idea of phone consultation for any reason, then simply don’t do it. However, do not assume that personal coaching by phone or email is second-rate. For many reasons, it can be superior to conventional, face-to-face therapy. Furthermore, good personal coaching by phone/electronic transmission is enormously preferable to mediocre or bad face-to-face therapy. The ideas and methods of your therapist/coach are much more important than whether or not he or she can bond with you and be your friend.


For much more on the subject of therapy and coaching, consult Dr. Michael Hurd’s book “Bad Therapy, Good Therapy (And How to Tell the Difference)” available for sale on this website.


Be sure to “friend” Dr. Hurd on Facebook. Search under “Michael Hurd” (Rehoboth Beach DE). Get up-to-the-minute postings, recommended articles and links, and engage in back-and-forth discussion with Dr. Hurd on topics of interest.