Noah’s ark of OLT counsellor make an appearance at Octia 2015

OLT Team March 2015

Bristol laid host to this year’s OCTIA (Online counselling and therapy in action) annual conference with a range of topics that not only met all age groups but also all modalities. Gill Webb opened the conference.

The first speaker was Susanne Irving who works at GamCare an organization that assists clients with gambling issues. She set up an online service some years ago in order to help those who could not always do face to face sessions due to a range of situations. As she introduced us to the work she does she also noted both the positive outcomes as well as some of the missteps along the way. Susanne also introduced Zoom which is a platform used in doing client sessions. It is HIPPAA compliant which has become important as more counsellors are turning towards online sessions.

Statistics were given of how helpful online counselling as well as tips such as having clients fill in assessment sheets increases their likelihood of using the service. Three areas of focus were the client, counsellor and environment in how well an online service will pan out. Not everyone is computer savvy so it may take a bit of time to guide a client around a platform and as a client one wants an online counsellor who can do more than turn the machine on. The environment is also of importance so reminding clients sessions on trains may not be ideal. The counsellor’s environment is also important so clients know their session is confidential. So a triad of knowledge and care is necessary for counselling to work.

The next speaker was Mieke Haveman who enlightened us all about marketing online in order to get clients and be up to date. An essential tool for an online counsellor is a website with the following pages: home, about me, FAQ, about online counselling and how you work, a contact page and if possible a blog. Another idea might be to do a newsletter which can be sent out at regular intervals, this also lets clients know you are still working and current. One idea is to ask for a name and an email address to send out the newsletter; then if someone wants to contact you for counselling or teaching that can be discussed more privately.

Social media is a good way of letting others know that you exist as an online counsellor; these can include Facebook, twitter, LinkedIn or via video on YouTube. These can then be picked up by search engines such as Google meaning you will be higher up the list when people are searching for counsellors in your specialist area. Counsellors need to keep in mind that responses should be within 48 hours because anything longer is seen as negative. A response might be ‘Thanks for your email I’ll get back to you on this date___’. It can be useful for counsellors have one day or morning a week to tend to and update their online platforms.

Stephanie Palin was the next speaker who gave a talk on getting started. One of the first questions one should ask is if they like writing and working online. It can be helpful to do an online counselling course before deciding if it is a good way to work for you to work with. Some of the positives of this way of working is no travelling time (unless you work online from a place outside your home), arranging time frames that suit both the client and counsellor, a record of your work, anonymity and accessibility as not all face to face counselling services can cater to clients with disabilities or those with dependents such as children or relatives that need caring for. There are a number of guidelines to keep in mind such as BACP or UKCP views, training, modalities, security, encryption, payment, assessment, supervision and payment.

Online counselling is either seen as text based or web based; these can be broken down to further categories. Text can be via emails, forums such as netmums or IM (instant message) whereas web based can be via Skype, VSee, CISCO, or WebEx. It is important that online counsellors are trained to at least a diploma level and be members of the UKCP or BACP or ACTO. Stephanie then finished up by introducing us to her EQUSS model which is Empathy, Questioning, Understanding, Specifics and Suggestions.

Sally Evans who worked with teenagers at places such as Kooth.com, gave a talk on how young people exist in the context of cyberspace. She noted that the way some clinicians speak to teens encourages them to seek assistance online and with each other. This means children with huge concerns are not getting the help they desperately need. Teens are able to relate and express their feeling by using anonymous ways such as using various names that are code or nicknames in order to not use their own name, however their friends may know the code name so they then make an anonymous name unknown to their friends. This can pose a risk if their discussions mention feeling suicidal feelings because they are harder to find. Another issue is that people are also able to hide their IP address (this is the personal coding of one’s own computer which can be linked to ones address). Teens are under a huge amount of pressure with exams and expectations they get perfect grades for university or their future and even if they succeed they wonder how to pay for huge university fees their parents or even much older siblings didn’t have to deal with when they studied.

Sally Evens set up a service for teens where she identifies who is most at risk with a red, yellow and green light so the most severe are classed as red and normal teen concerns are seen as green. Even those in the green area are assisted as normal teen concerns are hard to cope with. Teens are connected to their phones so trends whether positive or negative are being passed around at lightning speed. This means that they need assistance much quicker than the immense waiting lists services provide. Counsellors need specialist training as well as humour, resilience and courage. Sally and those she works with are helping to steady and assist teens so they can become the future generation who will one day make decisions for us. Respect is twofold so respecting teens means they will mirror this in their future.

The final speaker of the day was Tim Bond who spoke about online ethics and future challenges. He introduced the topic by explaining ethics is a way of being and relating – thoughtfully engaging with issues of right or wrong – with flexible and responsive. He also mentioned the impact of scandals and social care with a renewed focus on client safety. A huge list of general principles of ethics was explained which riveted many who attended and watched online. This list included: Being trustworthy, Respect for autonomy, Doing good, Avoiding harm, Justice, Self-respect and many more; each of these Tim explained fully so each of us could see the complexities each brought up for counsellors.

OCTIA delegates

Hot issues were also mentioned such as the anxiety felt by clients, counsellors and the profession. Online work also came into this as each person in this triad may hold their own view. Online counselling is a newer way of working so it’s understandable there may be concerns on each side. Counsellors also need to be more careful because clients can google us and if you don’t use privacy settings your personal life may not be personal. Let say you have a client who feels isolated and they find you in family party picture on Facebook; this can set off a whole new set of transference issues for all involved. One should google themselves because there may be more than your webpage listed. Counsellors have a right to a private life. Other concerns came up about going from face to face work onto online work; training is a necessary and keeping in mind laws across the world. America have quite strong views about their own counsellors working across State lines so counsellors from Europe may not be allow. Also some countries have views on how thorough they check computer usage so some topics may be more complicated. What is ok for the UK may be illegal in other countries so that must be checked out. Tim gave us a lot to think about and more can be read in his book Standards in Ethics for Counselling in Action.

During the day Anne Stokes was in the other room doing interviews with many of the guests and these were also livestreamed out to the audience watching the conference online. These gave greater insight to each of the speakers and their particular variant of online work. Anne is the director of Online Training for Counsellors, teaching both certificate and diploma training in online therapy. She was supervision editor for the online journal ‘Therapeutic Innovations in Light of Technology’ (TILT). Among her publications is the co-authored ‘Online Counselling: a handbook for practitioners’. In September 2013 Anne and Amanda Hawkins presented a keynote address on online counselling at the International Association for Counselling conference in Istanbul. Anne is a wealth of information concerning all aspects of online training.

All in all it was an amazing day for everyone who attended and for many at OLT to meet up again in person.

Written by Olivia Djouadi

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