In addition to being in private practice, I supervise and teach at three counselling and psychotherapy training organisations. The cohort who began their clinical practice placements during or after the first national lockdown will qualify having accrued the majority – if not all – of their requisite 100 client hours online or on the phone, rather than face to face in the room. This situation would have been inconceivable pre pandemic, and yet as part of the new norm that we have all been adjusting to, a new generation of counsellors have been trained almost exclusively in a virtual environment.
It remains to be seen what the long-term implications of this unprecedented change will be on the future of our profession. But, on a personal level, and having been among those who approached the mandatory switch to online training with a high degree of anxiety and scepticism, I have been astonished by the extent to which it has proved possible to deliver remote training that retains the relational depth of training ‘in real life’.
This is due to the phenomenal amount of commitment, sheer hard work and creative thinking of those in charge of managing and delivering training courses. And also to the fortitude, flexibility and abundant goodwill of trainees, who have adapted to this new, unexpected and, for many, unwanted experience.
While it has proved exhausting to spend long hours on Zoom and in Google classrooms, I have been surprised and relieved to find that modules I would at one time have considered impossible to replicate online, without losing the impact of the embodied experience of being in a training room together in person, have worked successfully.
I have also had the pleasure of supervising the work of trainees – some of whom I have never met in person – with clients whom they have likewise encountered solely online or on the phone. Contrary to what I would have anticipated when heading into the first lockdown 18 months ago, the quality of these therapeutic relationships has generally remained as solid, consistent and effective as I would usually expect from trainees working with clients face to face.
I have also had a felt sense of these relationships existing within a real and solid therapeutic frame. Frequently, I’ve had moments of incomprehension when a week’s work has ended and I realise that I have moved no further than my own consulting room at home and have not been in the physical presence of any of the people I have been in relationship with.
There is a huge loss to this, of course, and I have had times in which the grief of this has weighed heavy on me. But I also feel reassured by what is possible and reconciled to the likelihood that it will be some time before the traditional ways of working with clients and delivering therapy trainings will return in full. And reconciled too to some of the adjustments of the last 18 months possibly continuing in perpetuity.
I only need to look to my own private practice to realise that, even if I felt ready and willing to return to working face to face again with my clients, for at least half of the people I see, this will never be an option, as so many of them have moved far out of London, where I am based, with a handful no longer living in this country.
We have all had to make creative, sometimes on-the-hoof, adjustments to our ways of working in order to adapt to the challenges life has presented in this pandemic. It is apposite therefore, that this year’s BACP Private Practice conference focuses on the theme of creative approaches to therapy. It takes place on Saturday 25 September. Online. Naturally.
John Daniel, Editor firstname.lastname@example.org