Rabbi Raffi Bilek
Phone vs. Skype
Often when someone contacts me for a free consultation, they’ll ask if we can “just do it by phone.” I usually discourage speaking by phone, though ultimately I acquiesce if they insist. Here’s why.
Distance counseling has a lot of benefits to it, benefits which in many circumstances outweigh the acknowledged drawback of not physically being in the same room together. (There is a power to two people being a room that is not as palpable when they are communicating but are not in the same room.) Some of these benefits include convenience, time saving, and privacy (an especially relevant point for those living in small, or even not so small, Jewish communities: of the frum clients I work with in my own town, many of them I also run into frequently in shul or elsewhere).
While having that physical presence is helpful, I believe that visual contact at the least is indispensable. Any therapist will tell you that what is learned from nonverbal communication is at least as important, often more important, than what is learned from verbal communication. In fact, it is not uncommon for the understanding of what a client says to be completely altered by what they communicate nonverbally (such as a client who smiles while discussing deeply painful issues). Such cues would be missed entirely on a phone session. And in my experience, such cues are legion.
What is missed in a session conducted on the phone is too valuable to settle for the extra convenience of not having to download Skype, or get dressed to sit in front of the computer. That said, I do agree to do it if a client is not willing to go ahead with video conferencing, simply because I think any help is better than no help. If a person is not willing to do any more than a phone call from Los Angeles or Baltimore or wherever it may be, I will do my best to help them within the limitations of the medium, and perhaps try to move to a visual setting later on.
If you are considering distance therapy, I urge you to aim for a visual option. I think you’ll find therapy to be significantly more effective if you do.