5 Tips for Therapists Working Online in Response to Covid-19
Switching your entire therapy practice to online work may present new challenges, especially if you haven't worked in this way before
Trained online therapist Debbie Clements shares her five practical tips to help your online therapy sessions run smoothly
This week I’ve met three dogs, two cats, a shoal of fish and even a lizard. I’ve been shown much loved instruments, favourite mugs and well nurtured plants. It’s not been the typical working week!
As a trained online therapist, I’m used to seeing clients through video link, yet most of my therapeutic work still tends to happen in the counselling room. Like so many in the UK though I’ve found myself suddenly working solely from home.
For most counsellors the challenges of the lockdown have meant adapting quickly and without training. Online counselling however brings its own unique challenges and benefits to that of face-to-face counselling. Here are five handy tips you may find helpful.
1) Make use of the current information being released
Organisations such as ACTO (who list qualified online counsellors) have released free information around working online. Meanwhile, on the Online Events website you’ll find free CPD around online therapy from experts in the field. Through peer networks counsellors are showing solidarity with each other, sharing resources, ideas and experiences.
2) Ensure that you use a secure platform
Although it can be tempting to use popular social platforms-especially if the request has come from a client, it’s important to always bear ethics in mind. Is the platform trustworthy? Who owns the data used on the site? Popular professional platforms that online counsellors may opt for include Vsee and Zoom- both are free to use. Remember to refer to the professional competences and keep in mind the ethical guidelines set by your professional body.
3) Think about your environment
While many of us may be used to (or getting used to!) speaking with family and friends online, it’s important to recognise that online counselling demands particular considerations. Careful consideration needs paying to the space you are working from. For instance:
- Is the space you are working from safe from anyone overhearing your conversation?
If noise bleed is a concern, using a sound/white noise machine can really help.
- Is there a risk you will be disturbed by others?
Making it clear to others why confidentiality is so important to our work can mean fewer disturbances. It can also be useful to put a timetable up on the door noting when the room is occupied/free. Remember though when noting down times to include setting up and closing down time. This involves considering the time needed for writing up your notes and in the case of a session overrunning.
- Is the background appropriate to the relationship?
If we are not used to working from home (and even when we are!) it’s common to overlook things that might be appropriate for a friendly call but not a working call.
Does the clothing drying on the radiator need moving an inch or two? Could that family photograph bring up difficult feelings for your client-or perhaps reveal more than you want it to? Is your favourite cup a bit NSFW?
Consider also the atmosphere you want to create-could you pull a few plants into view to create a calming vibe? How about a new home for that calming picture with the sea view? Bear in mind too that platforms such as Zoom offer you realistic backgrounds which can really help if the space you are working from feels less than ideal.
It’s useful to encourage your client to also consider some of the points above questions to ensure they have the confidentiality and space they need.
4) Consider an online contract
In line with BACP good practice guidelines it’s important that clients have a clear understanding on what we are offering. Although written online contracts are recommended, even a verbal contract with a client is better than none. Online work is different to face to face and it’s important to recognise this. Consider the following:
- Have you informed/discussed with your client the platform you will be using?
- Have you considered back up options if technical issues affect the session in ways that mean it cannot continue? For instance, having a back up connection on another platform and having your phone to hand.
- Have you prepared your client (and yourself) for the likelihood of technical issues?
Every online therapist has a ‘bad internet’ day once in a while, extreme weather or increased demand on the network can impact. Perhaps a client (or we) have an insufficient internet strength). Freezes and delay’s are common and commonly worked around. However, severe and repeated issues can really affect rapport and connection in the session. They can happen at any point but are likely to show at the start of the session. Sometimes hanging up and calling again can resolve the issue, sometimes a back up option is needed.
5) Consider additional training
Feel like you’ve now got a taste for online counselling? If so, consider further training. The ACTO website lists several reputable organisations offering online training to help you become a trained and qualified online counsellor. You’ll likely go in deep with the ethics of online. You’ll also likely to learn how to offer other methods such as IM and e-mail. Both methods can be particularly useful when clients lack the privacy needed for video/phone sessions and e-mail counselling can provide reflective clients with valuable thinking time and space.
Being able to offer online counselling makes your service more accessible to others and adds variety to your working week. You might never look back!