A year has passed since the UK was plunged into the unknown of a pandemic induced lockdown. No one was prepared as we all scrambled to find answers to previously unasked questions – can we go to work? What will happen to my job? Can we see our loved ones? Who will look after my children when I’m meant to be working?

This also meant a seismic shift in the professional landscape for practitioners on a scale that no one had experienced before, as government legislation and risk of the virus spreading prevented many of us from seeing clients face to face. Not only did this present a steep learning curve for those who were moving existing clients to remote forms of practice, it also resulted in practitioners seeing unexpected changes to their workloads.

We heard your concerns through various channels: social media, calls to our customer services team, queries to ethics services and feedback from the divisional committees. In response, our ‘Member and Public COVID-19 response’ (MAPCOR) team was formed, and the development and delivery of a comprehensive suite of resources began. These included a dedicated micro-site, member and public resources, a range of FAQs and guidance, regular temp-check surveys, webinars, news and training, all of which were informed by the questions and experiences you had shared with us.

"Across the three months, the results showed incremental improvements in practitioners’ workloads"

For members of the BACP Private Practice division, we ran a short ‘temperature check’ survey across a period of three months during the summer of 2020. The aim was to ascertain how private practitioners’ workloads had been impacted by the pandemic and whether there were signs of recovery as the lockdown restrictions eased.

Across the three months, the results showed incremental improvements in practitioners’ workloads:

  • The number of private practitioners who had seen no or considerably fewer new referrals since the start of lockdown had decreased; from 47% in the first survey, to 32% in the third survey
  • Clients who decided to take a break at the point of lockdown were slowly starting to return to therapy; with 45% returning at the time of the first survey, compared with 55% by the time of the third survey
  • There was an increase in the number of practitioners resuming face to face work; from 30% of respondents in the first survey, to 55% in the third survey
  • The number of private practitioners reporting they felt confident or very confident that caseloads would return to normal pre-pandemic levels during 2020 increased; from 44% in the first survey, to 54% in the third survey

Anecdotally, the experiences we heard married up with the results of the survey – a mix of practitioners seeing no change in their caseloads, with others experiencing a reduction, and some having to put their practice on hold as their caseload dropped dramatically. Some members reported an initial dip in their caseloads as clients decided to suspend their sessions, hoping the lockdown would be temporary, only to resume remotely a month or so later as the country realised that we were in this for a while longer yet.

In response to members’ concerns about the continuity of their practices, BACP’s Workforce Lead, Kris Ambler, compiled information and guidance on the support schemes available to small businesses. Meanwhile licences to an online private practice platform were made available for free to all private practice members, to assist with the transition to online practice.

Whether to return to face-to-face work was a question many practitioners have been asking since the initial lockdown ended, and unfortunately the answer was not as straightforward as we all might have hoped. Tricky decision-making processes involved interpreting imprecise government guidance to establish legal grounds, followed by considering all the factors needed to establish a COVID 19-secure practice, which left practitioners feeling exhausted and anxious.

This was further compounded every time the Government announced a change in local restrictions, often at short notice, which meant practitioners had to quickly reassess their method of delivery. At the time of writing this article, we are still hearing cases where members are yet to see any clients face to face, despite missing the interpersonal exchanges that working in person brings.

Through your feedback, we recognised that changing between face-to-face and remote working brought with it additional practical and ethical challenges. Hearing this motivated us to produce additional practice support resources, including a COVID-19 risk assessment template and guidance on ‘hybrid’ working, which will be launched at the end of March.

"Self-care is more important now than ever before"

2020 was a challenging year, to say the least; and by the end of it, many practitioners were left feeling exhausted. Having conquered the steep learning curve to move their practice online or over the phone and accommodated clients’ requests for greater flexibility, many were having to dig deep to continue providing services to clients, while also struggling with the same anxieties presented by an unfamiliar and uncertain world. Self-care is more important now than ever before, and in addition to the existing resources available on BACP’s website, this will be a recurring theme throughout 2021.

It isn’t unusual during this time to question what the future holds – at the time of writing, swathes of the UK are still under tight lockdown restrictions and news of new variants has added additional concern to the mix. However, the rollout of the vaccine brings new hope that as 2021 progresses, our lives and work will be increasingly less constrained by the pandemic. Members are already reporting that caseloads are increasing, and more are feeling confident that their practice will resume to pre-COVID 19 levels. We appreciate that this will not be the case for all private practitioners and BACP will continue to listen to members’ experiences and concerns, using this to inform our guidance and resources and work together to ensure that we are doing all we can to support the profession.