Online Working, The Journey.
As the pandemic surges ahead, measures to keep people safe are paramount and counselling services face the same challenges as we did back in March 2020.
In many respects, including for myself, the simple answer is to provide services remotely via video link. However, there are many considerations in respect of remote working and here I am going to share with you some of those considerations as I embarked upon these new ways of working back in 2020.
First of all, let me be honest.
I am human too and with that comes my own hang ups, issues and fears. A big issue for me has always been cameras. My permanent expression on any picture is a frown as that was my default position if anyone pointed a camera at me. So, you can imagine my horror when lockdown one occurred. Here I was developing my private counselling practise and suddenly the realisation dawned that I would have to start embracing online working. Not just face a camera but be there in person on video!
It was important that I got over this, I could not be distracted with my own issues when working with clients. So I set about practising, I recorded, and I played back. I felt silly and uncomfortable but I kept at it until such time that I overcome (almost) the fear of the dreaded lenses.
That dealt with I focused on other areas of anticipation and anxiety. What if the technology didn’t work or the quality was poor? I knew it would be unfair on clients who are brave enough to get into the flow of their stuff for that flow to be interrupted because of technology. So I practised some more and connected with people outside of work to get feedback. I tweaked things, subscribed to platforms, adjusted my settings and assessed best audio quality.
I was ready….almost.
I knew that fundamentally I believed that face to face work was preferable. But I also knew that clients had to drive their own direction and that my belief system may not be theirs. The client had to lead on their counselling journey and I had to trust that they knew the best option for them.
I also knew that I could be proven wrong.
So next was getting service ready.
The ease of connecting via video can be offset by the complications.
Difficulties with poor internet connection, clients finding a quiet space, confidentiality concerns and for me the knowledge that many clients did not want to bring their traumas into their safe home environment. Valid concerns!
Ethical and safeguarding considerations.
What if a client was not in a good mental state, if I had concerns for their welfare and the connection went down?
In person sessions enable a process to check out the clients thinking, extend time with them and instigate safeguarding measures if necessary. How is this achievable when remote working, when the client can disconnect and leave the session without knowledge of their welfare?
I knew it was important to address these concerns. I began to adapt my counselling contract. Originally written for face to face clients it now had to incorporate measures for such scenarios. Initial assessments also changed to include conversation about these contractual changes so clients were fully informed and knew from the start what would happen if the connection was lost.
Discussions about confidentiality and agreements about informing me if someone entered the room all started to become a normal way of thinking. To deliver a professional remote counselling service these things not only had to be considered but they had to be addressed.
Getting clients ready.
Clients take a brave step in accessing counselling.
To ask them to do it remotely can be extremely daunting. Clients have concerns about confidentiality, who can hear, what is the connection like? Is it secure? Can the session be recorded?
I needed to reassure clients as much as possible. I subscribed to a secure online provider service to ensure that the call was encrypted end to end (not that its fully understood by mere mortals like me)! as advised by BACP and other counselling bodies.
I also took the step of making sure I set up my laptop and conducted remote working from my garden therapy room. This was a familiar environment for clients who had been face to face and also gave reassurance that no one else was present or could overhear our discussion.
And I had to acknowledge that for some clients, just as it was for me, the whole concept of being ‘on screen’ was a daunting and difficult step to take. Some of my initial set up therefore would have to be giving the client time to feel comfortable and assisting them in finding the right screen view for them and understanding controls such as mute. After all it took me a while to get used to it!
I have to be honest:
Remote working has been better than I feared.
Yes its different to face to face work, but that’s not necessarily bad.
There are advantages for clients aside from the obvious reduced Covid risk.
Travelling is not necessary. Driving when your mind is full of the difficult things you might want to bring up in session can be risky.
Plus there is the additional travel time and some of my clients were travelling up to an hour each way, making the counselling session almost half of their working day. Others depended on lifts or taxi’s and that could incur additional costs.
Location is no longer an issue. I have had clients who regularly work away find that the online sessions have enabled them to continue their therapeutic journey without interruption wherever they are. They have successfully utilised mobile phones to have their session and providing they have internet connection have done this from gardens, cars and hotel rooms.
And for me this has opened up my client group to people who geographically would not have been able to access me. People in other parts of the country and people abroad.
I’ve even been able to complete training without the expense of travelling to London and paying for accommodation. And I have continued with my clinical supervision without interruption thanks to online platforms.
Who’d have thought that Covid-19 could open my eyes to this whole new world of online working?
Now I’m not saying this is for everyone and I’m very aware that its not.
Personally though, this old dinosaur is no longer going extinct. I like the mix of remote and in person counselling, both bring something different to the process and both very much have their place. Even when the first lockdown lifted I had clients that were only remote, had never met in person and that I would not have believed to be ideal previously.
"It has opened my eyes and whole new world"
Client feedback has been positive and so far I’ve only encountered one or two connection issues for clients.
The thought and practise I have given to online working seems to have reaped rewards, the process works, myself and clients soon seem to filter out the screen and distance between us as if it wasn’t there.
So online work continuing and if you feel able to give it a go, get in touch. Its not so scary.