As the coronavirus crisis continues, the role of therapists and counsellors is vital in helping individuals deal with anxiety, loneliness, frustration, grief, and financial stress during these unprecedented times. While Stay at Home and quarantine measures are still in place, online therapy is the next best thing to support those struggling with the mental and emotional health impact of this epidemic. A transition to remote therapy might be necessary and here are a few steps to help you bridge the digital divide with your clients.
The first thing to do is to reach out to your clients and let them know about the potential changes to your sessions. Call, text or email them so they are prepared and also consider if they have the means and facilities to undergo online therapy.
Training and Credentials
Providing therapy and counselling services online can differ from face-to-face session. To find resources on additional training for providing online counselling services, visit this page. That way, you will feel confident and prepared for the transition from in-person therapy to online counselling sessions.
You might need to consider additional supervision from an experienced online supervisor. Keep your supervisor informed about any developments or concerns. To find a suitable supervisor, go to ACTO.
For new and existing clients, you will need to rework your contracts to accommodate this change. You may need to add clauses related to the modifications in your practice, especially those related to security and confidentiality, for the duration of the epidemic.
Check with your insurance company whether you are covered to offer online therapy and update your professional indemnity policy to include this. If any of your clients use insurance, encourage them to also check with their insurance provider if they are covered for remote online therapy.
Click here to learn how to upload your insurance on Bidvine to let your clients know that you’re covered.
Privacy and Data Protection
As online therapy involves a high volume of personal data, you have a legal obligation to protect client data and ensure that if you must store any data that you are doing so in line with GDPR legislation. You will need to go to ICO for more information and to register with them.
Additionally, you have an ethical responsibility to safeguard clients from authorised information disclosure. You must take the necessary steps to ensure your computer and client contact details are never accessed by anyone other than yourself and that you update consent forms to accommodate online therapy. More information can be found here.
You will need to modify your payment methods and fee structure so have a chat with your accountant about steps to have proper and secure payment arrangements in place. Be sure to communicate any changes to existing customers so everyone is on the same page.
Your computer is critical for online sessions so make sure everything works smoothly, update the operating system if needed, and also check to see you have a strong Wi-Fi connection in place.
Using appropriate software applications
There are several online resources that can be used for online group as well as one-to-one therapy sessions. Remember that some clients might be unfamiliar with certain applications so write a short list of steps on how to download and install the software to make sure this process is easy.
- Bidvine Video Calls – For customers you connect with through Bidvine, use our video call feature. It is free to use, secure, requires no additional software or downloads, and saves you having to send through meeting links or user ids.
- Google Hangouts – You and your client will need a Google account to set this up but this is fairly simple to use on mobiles as well as on desktops.
- Skype – Skype can be downloaded to your phone or PC and is relatively easy to install and use. You and your client will need an account with Outlook.
- Zoom – Zoom is one of the easiest to work with and you also have the ability the record meetings and generate scripts with searchable text.
- Webex – This is another good option and easy to use with affordable pricing plans.
Create an intentional and private space
The environment you create will have an impact on how you deliver your service and it is important to make your clients feel comfortable. Here are a few pointers:
- Make certain that your space is not just serene but also private and secure. For additional privacy, use headphones and encourage your clients to do the same.
- If you live with others or family members, inform them well in advance about your sessions so any distractions or interruptions are minimised. Tell your clients to do the same.
- Test your camera set-up and ensure that proper lighting is in place so your clients have a clear view. Avoid having any light source behind you, a spot by the window with natural light is the most ideal.
Pay attention to bodily cues
Though one-to-one interactions are ideal to pick up on the emotional state of your clients, remote therapy requires even more attention. If you are finding it a challenge to observe facial expressions and read body signals on your screen, don’t shy away from getting your clients to name their emotions and offer helpful descriptors. The tone of voice is another good indicator of your client’s state of mind.
Ending your session
Ending online sessions can often seem abrupt so try adding a few minutes summarising your session, and saying goodbye properly.
- For the first session with a client, get started five minutes early to smooth out any device-related issues and also to ensure no one feels rushed.
- Continue to check in with vulnerable and high-risk clients that are confined to their homes and need extra emotional support.
- Have a Plan B in place – technical glitches always happen so stay prepared by texting or emailing your client and continuing to stay in touch with them.
- This is also a good time to get in touch with past clients to see if they need additional support.
For additional guidance from the government, please click here.
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