Phone coaching or face to face – which is more effective?

Coaching Research in Practice: Phone coaching or face to face – which is more effective?

This article is written by reciprocoach A Weber:
The most important distinction: Phone coaching can be equally effective as face-to-face coaching.


If you’re a regular Coaching Research in Practice reader, you’ll know that usually I examine one research paper, pull out the learning and make a few research-based suggestions for practice. This month however I’m taking a different approach and drawing on several pieces of research to help us understand the difference in efficacy between face-to-face and phone coaching.

The relevance of this topic emerged from our last issue of ReciproCoach Lessons from the Field, which stimulated a valuable discussion on LinkedIn , plus several responses to our poll. In one of these discussions, a UK ReciproCoach pointed us in the direction of some research, and once I got on that scent, I followed the tracks! Here’s what I found out…


All of the research I’m about to highlight comes from the field of therapy, the findings of which we may easily use, in this instance, to inform coaching. The first study (Hammond, et al., 2012) compared the effects of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), delivered face to face (FTF) or over the telephone (OTT), with patients suffering from depression and anxiety. The findings noted “that symptoms decrease and social function increases under both treatment conditions, and that OTT is a convenient and effective a CBT modality for the majority of [lower intensity] patients” (“The Findings,” para. 1). Notably, the paper suggests that higher intensity patients, those who experience more symptoms of depression and anxiety, and older patients may do better with FTF.

An earlier study (Lovell et al., 2006) examined the impact of OTT CBT in the treatment of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). It found that “the clinical outcome of cognitive behaviour therapy delivered by telephone was equivalent to treatment delivered face to face at all four follow-up time points and patients reported similarly high levels of satisfaction” ( “Discussion,” para. 1). Surprisingly, the FTF patients received 10 one-hour sessions, while OTT patients received only 8 weekly phone sessions of up to 30 minutes in length!

Interestingly, the above two studies reported on therapeutic relationships that began with a face-to-face session and both agreed that OTT sessions significantly reduced the costs associated with therapy, promoting greater accessibility.

The third study (Mohr et al., 2012) specifically targeted the effect of FTF versus OTT CBT on adherence to a primary care program for depressed patients. Across 18 45-minute sessions, the study revealed a significant difference: compared to the FTF participants, significantly fewer OTT participants discontinued before session 18; and OTT patients attended significantly more sessions than FTF patients. Indeed, it suggests “that telephone delivery can overcome barriers to adhering to face-to-face treatment” (p. 2282). While the study reported that OTT was equally effective as FTF at the very end of the sessions, the findings also suggested that “face-to-face treatment was significantly superior to [OT]T-CBT during the 6-month follow-up period” (p. 2282).


In light of this research, there are several points of practice that translate to coaching:

1. Phone coaching can be equally effective as face-to-face coaching.
2. Older clients, and, potentially, more ‘intense’ clients, may do better with face-to-face coaching.
3. Compared to face-to-face coaching, phone coaching can achieve outcomes in fewer and shorter sessions.
4. It might be beneficial to begin the phone coaching relationship with a face-to-face session.
5. It costs less to provide phone coaching, so you can also charge less, making coaching more accessible.
6. Phone coaching could assist clients in adhering to a coaching program, so if they are delaying/putting off sessions, it might be worth suggesting shorter, and perhaps more frequent, phone sessions.


Hammond, G. C., Croudace, T. J., Radhakrishnan, M., Lafortune, L., Watson, A., McMillan-Shields, F., & Jones, P. B. (2012). Comparative effectiveness of cognitive therapies delivered face-to-face or over the telephone: An observational study using propensity methods. PLOS ONE, 7(9). Retrieved from

Lovell, K., Cox, D., Haddock, G., Jones, C., Raines, D., Garvey, R., Roberts, C., & Hadley, S. (2006). Telephone administered cognitive behaviour therapy for treatment of obsessive compulsive disorder: Randomised controlled non-inferiority trial. BMJ, doi: 10.1136/bmj.38940.355602.80 (published 25 August 2006).

Mohr, D. C., Ho, J., Duffecy, J., Reifler, D., Sokol, L., Burns, M. N., Jin, L., & Siddique, J. (2012). Effect of telephone-administered vs face-to-face cognitive behavioral therapy on adherence to therapy and depression outcomes among primary care patients: A randomized trial. JAMA, 307(21), 2278-2285. Retrieved from

PLOS ONE: Comparative Effectiveness of Cognitive Therapies Delivered Face-to-Face or over the Teleph

PLOS ONE: an inclusive, peer-reviewed, open-access resource from the PUBLIC LIBRARY OF SCIENCE. Reports of well-performed scientific studies from all disciplines freely available to the whole world.

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