How to Go Online: Counselling During the Coronavirus
The current health crisis means many counsellors are considering taking their practice online for the first time. Therapist Suzie Mosson, a director of Online Training for Counsellors, has some expert advice for practitioners looking to make this move, from reviewing insurance and fees to choosing a webcam programme and re-contracting with your client. Top of her list of guidance? Don’t panic – plan.
Do you belong to a membership body for your counselling work? Perhaps a Facebook group that has a focus on development, whether of self or business? I wonder how your email inbox is looking…
My inbox is currently bulging with emails regarding washing hands and taking my counselling online. The focus is on keeping client continuity and managing anxiety around missing appointments by offering a short-term online service. It’s much the same as face-to-face work, we are told, and our clients really, really need it. So far, so helpful?
Except it’s not.
Online counselling, online therapy, e-counselling, digital therapy – or any other incarnation – is quite different to face to face counselling. To practise online, you need to be competent in the online approach – and that’s not about being technologically competent, although that is certainly helpful. If you don’t have competence, refer on to a counsellor who does. It’s embedded in your code of ethics.
While I can’t condense all the important factors covered in online training here, I do want to use this blog to outline some key steps counsellors should be taking if they are looking to start taking face-to-face sessions online.
Consult your supervisor
Your first port of call is to discuss your caseload with your supervisor. Additionally, approaching an online supervisor for one-to-one support can be helpful in alleviating fear about unknown incompetence.
Check your insurance
Check with your insurance provider that you will be covered. Two of the biggest providers in the UK don’t cover online counselling. If you are not covered, check out whether you can top up your policy – you are not the only person considering remote working right now so it is probably something that is being looked at.
Consider the counselling space
Ensure you have an area to deliver online counselling from – ideally well lit, but not with sunshine blinding your clients. Flowery bedroom wallpaper can be disguised with a sheet if you don’t have a home office. You don’t want the backdrop to be distracting, and although this is a temporary measure it is still important you look professional.
Research programmes – including your client’s preferences
Download some webcam programmes, and take the opportunity to have a session with a friend or colleague on each to test them out. Respecting client autonomy may mean using the webcam programme they are most familiar with. That may be different to the recommendation you receive on social media. So long as you have a private and confidential space, your client has a private and confidential space, and you both have an awareness nothing can ever be 100 per cent secure, then there is no issue – unless of course your membership body states otherwise.
Review your session fees
Think about how much you will charge per session. Will your fees be the same? After all, you may now have two supervisors. Or will you reduce them to reflect the fact you no longer have to rent a room? How will you be paid now you will not be meeting in person? You might share your bank details, or formalise your approach through invoicing or using well-known web based programmes such as PayPal. If you use an electronic diary, check whether it offers a billing option – or perhaps you can add one to your website.
Re-contract, including crisis procedures
Your client should be aware of your ‘in crisis’ procedures and will understand you need to adapt them. You might not normally have a written contract but good practice would encourage redefining therapy boundaries. A range of suitable agencies and organisations who offer a 24-hour service is helpful to have at hand, and you should share clear instructions on the steps taken that will be taken when technology breaks down.
The comments I have read from counsellors on social media seem to range from feeling clients cannot possibly manage a break, to throw away comments such as, “I just send the client the link” and off they go. Underneath the grandiose statements, the put downs regarding training, and the fake news about the security of different platforms, I suspect there is fear.
But online therapy is rewarding, and with the proper preparation it could be the right solution for you and your client. Although it was not either of your first choice of delivery, you may find that your clients are curious about working in this new way, and ultimately relieved therapy can continue in such uncertain times.
Online Training for Counsellors has training aimed at all levels, including an online diploma in supervision. It is also open to offering small group training to supervision groups over the coming weeks.