When the COVID-19 pandemic began it changed the way therapy was running overnight. Suddenly, online and telephone counselling was the only form of counselling that could be delivered during a national lockdown. It challenged the rigid ways therapy was perceived and provided until then.
Switching to Online Counselling
I find online and telephone counselling to be just as effective for clients as face to face therapy. When the agencies I worked for at the time of lockdown switched to online and telephone counselling most of my clients were willing to try it. They were pleased to find out that it worked for them. There were two who chose to pause their sessions because they preferred to experience the appointments in the room where they felt more comfortable. Personal preference always matters.
So what are the pros and cons of switching to online counselling?
- Flexibility. You couldn’t make it for that 5 pm session because of commute? Well, online/phone counselling solves that problem. Both clients and counsellors can be much more flexible with arranging appointments
- Comfort. Clients can attend sessions from the safety and comfort of their home. They can make themselves a cup of tea or hot chocolate, have their pet with them if they like, and attend.
- Anonymity. No need to worry about whether someone sees you going in or out of the counselling room.
- Accessibility. For those struggling with social anxiety or mobility issues, online/phone counselling removes those barriers.
- Sessions can still take place if the participants move location or travel.
- Technology is not in our control. The reality is that when using technology, we rely on a third party, therefore contingency plans need to be in place, and in certain situations, sessions need to be rescheduled
- You don’t get to experience the other person in the room and you may lose out on the visual clues.
- There is more room for misunderstandings when the two people are not in the same space and more room for assumptions.
- Accessing sessions online means that there is no separation from your personal space and the therapy space. You need to consider if you are comfortable having counselling in your home and how to decompress after sessions.
- It is not appropriate for crisis
What to think about?
Are you trained to deliver online/telephone counselling? The ethical way to practice is to practice within our competence. I found the external training I completed before transitioning to online and telephone counselling to be very supportive, both for me as a practitioner and for my clients.
Some of the main things to think about before deciding:
- Are you comfortable using technology and do you believe in online therapy? I know counsellors who never got used to staring at the screen each appointment and returned to face to face appointments at the first opportunity. If you are not comfortable with this or you don’t think you can provide as much for your clients via online/telephone connection as you would in the counselling room then it may be better for you and your clients to keep it face to face.
- Does your insurance cover your online practice? It’s always worth checking with your provider.
- Do you use protected apps and email accounts?
- Are you comfortable using technology? This can be learned of course and I have navigated some of my clients through figuring out different video platforms. However, if you’re not comfortable looking at the screen and this is a barrier for you to open up, maybe online counselling is not for you. It is worth checking telephone, email, or instant messaging if face to face is not an option.
- Do you have any physical condition that may be a barrier to you attending online counselling? During an assessment with a new client, it was decided that online sessions were not appropriate for them because of an eye condition they suffered from which screen time would have made worse. Instead, they opted for telephone counselling.
- Do you have a fast enough broadband? A good and stable Internet connection is crucial for video counselling sessions. There is nothing worse than processing difficult feelings and the connection falling through. It may be worth considering the other forms of counselling mentioned above.
Regardless of whether you are a client or a practitioner, switching to online counselling should always be your choice.
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