Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

Using the Telephone in Family Therapy

Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

Using the Telephone in Family Therapy

Article excerpt

The telephone is available to and routinely used by most Americans. In 1988, 92.9% of U.S. households had telephones, and the average American spent nearly 50 minutes per day on the telephone (Mesce, 1988).

Given the general public's frequent, everyday use of the telephone, the possibility arises that the telephone might also be used as a communication medium in family therapy. Selvini, Boscolo, Cecchin, and Prata (1978) introduced use of the telephone by family therapists as a means of conducting an extensive intake interview prior to meeting with a family for ongoing therapy. Springer (1991) promoted use of the telephone as a direct means of treating families. The purpose of this article is to explore further the use of telephonic communication in family therapy. A review of related literature will be followed by an exploration of some of the distinct challenges for family therapists conducting family therapy sessions by telephone. The author will offer a case example and examine some of the ethical issues involved. The article will close with an exploration of future possibilities for the use of advanced telephone-related communication technology in family therapy.


In the family therapy literature, the most commonly mentioned use of the telephone is in the context of supervision invoiving a one-way mirror (e. g., Birchler, 1975; Bolyston & Tuma, 1972; Haley, 1977; McGoldrick, 1982; Wright, 1986). Typically, the telephone is used from behind a one-way mirror by the observing supervisor and/or observing team to call the therapist during the session to provide input. A variation is reported by Imber Coopersmith (1980) who experimented with calls from the observing team directly to family members and sometimes with calls from family members observing behind the one-way mirror to other family members who were in session in the therapy room.

A number of authors (DiBlasio, Fischer, & Prata, 1986; Prata, 1990; Selvini et al., 1978) have reported using the telephone as a medium for conducting family therapy intake interviews. "We can never stress enough the fact that therapy begins with the first telephone call" (Selvini et al., 1978, p. 11). DiBlasio et al. (1986)have described the telephone as a useful medium for family therapy intake interviews: "Prior to meeting the family, the team gathers information indispensable to the preparation of the first session through skillfully conducted telephone interviews" (p. 31). Prata (1990) has published a standard "Telephone Chart" which outlines suggested information to gather during a teiephone intake interview.

Whereas use of the telephone by all of these authors is limited to information gathering during a telephone intake interview, Springer (1991) introduced use of the telephone as a direct means of treating families. Springer recommended telephone sessions as an especially useful approach for engaging families in therapy when geographic distance makes in-person participation impractical, when one or more family member refuses to come in person, and/or when a family member is unable to attend sessions in person due to a physical disability. Springer (1991) noted that with family therapy sessions by telephone, more flexible scheduling arrangements are possible. Some clients can arrange for an hour on the telephone while at work or home but cannot leave and travel from their work site or home. Travel time is also eliminated. Springer described telephone sessions as often having an equalizing effect: some clients feel less intimidated when the family therapist is on the telephone.

This article builds upon Springer' s work. Springer described broad categories in which telephone sessions might be useful. This article provides more specific examples of when calling might be most helpful. Springer depicted some of the advantages of family therapy by telephone. This article addresses some of the challenges involved for the therapist and related ethical issues which remain unaddressed to date. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.