Domestic Violence During the Pandemic (5/5): Working Remotely
How should we approach contracting and safeguarding when working remotely with clients experiencing domestic violence? Dr Jeannette Roddy is a counsellor, author and academic specialising in this area. In the conclusion to her five-part blog series responding to the surge of domestic violence during lockdown, she outlines practical measures to keep client and therapist safe – including what to do when the abuser may be present during a session.
Safeguarding and contracting is a complex area. What follows is not an exhaustive list, but some thoughts to help to keep everyone safe.
Preparation and contracting
Working remotely with individuals who have experienced domestic violence and are not living alone can be a complex process as the abuser may be present. When conducting a first session with the individual, it can be useful to ensure that you are talking to the correct person, especially if you are using a text-based application, for example by setting up a password during client assessment. You may wish to withhold your number when calling for telephone counselling, using 141, or use a second telephone to ensure that the abuser cannot call back later using your personal number. If you are providing online or text-based therapy, ensure that the client knows how to erase browser history and online content.
Once the client takes the call, you can check that they have the privacy required for therapy at that time and explore anything unusual you see or hear in the background with the client. It would be useful for the client to use headphones if possible, to allow exploration of situations safely using closed questions. Contracting should include what the client would like you to do if: someone else answers the call (do you ask for the client, or for someone else (using a pre-agreed name so that the client is aware that it was you calling); the abuser enters the room; the call is unanswered; there are connection problems during the session; or the session is suddenly and unexpectedly terminated.
Safeguarding: risk and disclosure
Those who have experienced domestic abuse have a high risk of suicidal ideation (up to 1 in 2 clients) and more will die from suicide each year than physical violence. Hence safeguarding is an important part of this work. It is useful when contracting to provide contact numbers for the client for support between sessions, if needed. If you intend to offer between session support, be clear about when, how long and whether there is a charge, within your contract. Also offer clarity on what will happen if the client indicates harm to self or others.
Good practice is to discuss any risk identified (which may include children) with the client at the time it appears in session and agree with them to whom, how and when any disclosure will be made. If the risk is high and the client will not co-operate, disclosure may need to be made to protect the client or others at risk. This is a situation which should be enacted within your ethical framework, the client contract, agency procedures and any discussion in supervision. Counsellors will require access to contact details, such as the client’s GP, so that they can notify appropriate professionals to support the client. If this is handled well with the client, the chance of the client returning to therapy afterwards is much higher.
Care and clarity
Providing therapy can provide important relief and support to clients during lockdown and considering the safety of the client both during and after a counselling session is an important part of that service. Careful contracting and clear boundaries from the outset can help both the client and counsellor to stay safe.
Working with clients who have experienced domestic violence can be hugely challenging and immensely rewarding. Remember that good counselling can be both life-changing and transformational for individuals who have experienced abuse.
I hope that this series of blogs has been helpful. If you have any thoughts, comments or queries, please feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.