Online & Phone Counselling – What Should I Expect?

Coronavirus (Covid-19) & Online or Phone Counselling

Due to the current Covid-19 (coronavirus) crisis, a lot of people who perhaps wouldn’t normally have considered online or phone-based counselling are starting to think about it more seriously. This may be because you are currently having face-to-face therapy and, for social distancing or self-isolation reasons, need to move to a different method of counselling or because the current crisis is bringing up issues for you that you need safe, appropriate support with.

I wanted to share some of the things I think (from a counsellor’s perspective) it is really important to know about online or phone-based working. Some of what I share below is specific to me and the way that I work; other therapists may work differently. If you are a fellow therapist or a client, please let me know in the comments what else you would add! Perhaps there is something you wish you had known in advance of your first session? Are there any questions you have?

Getting Started With Online/ Phone-Based Counselling

I typically work using a platform called ‘Zoom’. In my experience, this offers the experience of counselling that is most similar to face-to-face counselling. Personally, I rarely experience connection issues and there does not tend to be a time delay or lag, so sound and image sync up. It is genuinely really straightforward to get to grips with and use.

The way that it works for me and my clients is that for each session on Zoom I email a unique link several days before, along with step-by-step instructions. At our agreed session time, you would copy and paste this link into your browser and follow a couple of prompts. You may need to download Zoom, but don’t worry – this is a quick and easy process. What happens then is that we would be connected with each other on a private video call. If you are really unsure about using Zoom, I offer to clients that we can have a practice before the session and book a little extra time to do this. It is worth asking your counsellor if they are able to offer this too.

Alternatively, it is possible to use other platforms such as WhatsApp video call or Facetime if it is more comfortable for you to use a service you are already familiar with. Zoom, Facetime and WhatsApp are all widely considered to be secure enough for counselling.

I offer to clients that they are welcome to try out both online (via different platforms) and phone counselling to see which suits best. Again, I am happy to provide free assistance with getting clients set up for online counselling – it is worth checking whether your counsellor is able to do the same.

What technology do I need?

You would need access to a laptop or desktop with a webcam and microphone (either built in or separate to the computer itself) or you can download Zoom onto a tablet or smartphone. If you prefer to use WhatsApp for Facetime you would need access to this. You will need wifi/ internet connection or mobile data.

If you prefer the idea of phone-based counselling, you would need a phone and to be somewhere with a decent signal.

If you experience any issues with your hearing you may want to consider using a headset if this helps to make these forms of counselling more accessible for you.

How should I prepare for sessions?

It is important that you feel comfortable in your counselling sessions. Some of the factors you may wish to consider include:

  • Are you in a private space which is comfortable, quiet and where you can talk freely without being disturbed or distracted? If others are around, you may want to put a sign on the door of your room to avoid being disturbed. Alternatively, if you have a car, you may want to consider this as a private space for sessions.
  • Is the device you’re using (laptop/ phone/ tablet) sufficiently charged or plugged in? Do you have a good enough internet connection? It is possible to switch to ‘audio only’ if not.
  • If you are using your phone or tablet, it is a good idea to find something to rest it upon at eye level so you don’t need to hold it for a full 50 minutes.
  • Think carefully about what you need to do to prepare for your sessions. It may feel a bit jarring to suddenly be ‘in’ an online counselling session, so you may want to log in early to feel more prepared. I will then join at the session time (the same way I would come to collect a client at our agreed session time at my counselling room).
  • Often there is a ‘buffer’ provided by the physical act of leaving the counselling room and journeying onwards, so you might want to think about providing yourself with a little time when your online/ phone session ends to reintegrate into your day/ home.

I hope this has provided some food for thought regarding online or phone-based counselling, especially in this rapidly changing current climate.

If you have any questions or thoughts please let me know – I’d love to know your perspectives. Alternatively, if you are interested in booking an online or phone-based session with me, please do get in touch. I am physically based in Nether Edge, Sheffield but am happy to work with clients across the UK. Details of how to contact me are here.

Thanks for reading and take good care,

~ Polly

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