Over the last few years I had noticed that counselling was changing and online counselling (e-therapy, e-counselling) was becoming more popular. I was curious of online counselling and as a private practitioner I thought it would be good to offer this service in addition to my face to face work. I carried out research and saw transferring the use of counselling skills into an online media required additional skills and competencies to those utilised within face to face contact. I decided as part of my CPD (Continuing Professional Development) that I would carry out some CPD online and needed to attend an online counselling skills course.
I therefore decided to undertake a BACP recommended Online Counselling Skills Course. I attended OCST course as I felt this online CPD course would answer the questions in my head but also give me an opportunity to practice counselling using both email and instant messaging. I thought this would be a valuable tool to gain experience of offering this service as an e-therapist or e-counsellor.
I recognised that securing an effective and ethical online presence and the development of relational qualities which promote positive outcomes for clients required additional consideration. I needed to learn how I could transfer my skills and theory from face to face to online but I also needed to form an online presence that is delivered and managed in a manner which proves to be conducive to effectively supporting clients using online technology.
I was also concerned about ensuring that I provided good practice within the boundary of BACP Ethical Framework and ensuring confidentiality towards my client. I thought the training would answer these concerns and furnish me with the necessary skills and competency to providing a professional online service.
IWhat did I learn?
Through the course I learnt that I had a responsibility to my clients in providing technical assistance and clarity towards my clients. My face to face contract and online contract must be clear and concise. This resulted in me devising my own online assessment form and updating my present initial assessment form.
As a counsellor my online presence has always been a concern for me and I have tried to remain professional online at all times. When I market myself, I am aware all my information must be correct and clear to my client and any online marketing must protect my clients as well ensure their autonomy and not do anything that would jeopardise our therapeutic relationship. The online counselling course encouraged reflection of the ethical importance of my own online presence. Just before the course had started, I started an online presence through social media. The course encouraged me think further on how I conducted myself to protect myself and my client. This resulted in me compiling a social media policy. It clearly states to clients how I conduct myself on line and what I expect from them. For example, I will not engage with any client through social media and I keep my personal Facebook page timeline private and hidden from the general public.
Online counselling can be directive and I found that it is easier if I have access to information and helpful resources to pass onto clients. Throughout the last nine years as a trained counsellor I had built up a bank of resources but I found certain areas were missing. I therefore identified areas which I needed further information on and updated my resources. The online course and reflection has also helped me be creative and blog about these areas so clients have instant access to the information.
This experimental approach has given me new insights to the use of words and writing as a counselling tool. I found that empathy can be used with words and that you can pick up on feelings. I discovered that instant messaging and email counselling slows down the counselling dialogue and introduces reflection into each interaction for both the client and counsellor. It also allows the client to read, and then re-read what has been written giving further reflection time. The process of writing gives clients the opportunity to disentangle their thoughts through writing as well as new insights to their problems. Words and further reflection time can help clients look at new ideas on how they can works towards their own solution.
Influencing my face to face practice
This in turn has influenced my approach to my face to face counselling. I now try to slow down the counselling process with my clients as well as create silent time for reflection in the sessions. I find my own note taking is different with my notes playing an important part of my own reflection. This in turn has led me to prepare differently for my supervision sessions.
By Hazel Hill, Counselling in your Community