I find it hard to believe that a year has passed since that momentous day - 23 March 2020 - when Boris Johnson made his speech to the nation.
Professionally, it sent me scurrying to find a way of continuing my counselling and supervision practice, as I had a full diary of appointments that week. I found it very stressful, as someone who hadn’t worked online before, and isn’t particularly technology-savvy, having to learn overnight how Zoom worked, contacting all my clients to explain to them how to use it, and researching suitable online therapy training courses. Supervisees were asking me questions that I was trying to find the answers to for myself, clients didn’t all have the necessary equipment or the privacy to meet online, I was revising my client contract, and getting to grips with a whole new world of risk assessments, poor connectivity, disinhibition factor, and so on. I know it’s an overused cliché - ‘steep learning curve’ - but this one was almost vertical.
Yet here we are, a whole year on, and although my usual counselling room feels very cold and soul-less, I’ve still managed to connect with clients and supervisees alike. This has surprised me, having been quite skeptical in the past about online therapy and how ‘real’ the therapeutic relationship could be.
Initially, the strange technology was rather distracting, but apart from a few teething troubles (“I can hear you but I can’t see you”, “You’ve frozen”, “I can only see the top of your head”), I’ve almost forgotten that we’re not actually in the same room as each other. In fact, sometimes I realise at the end of the day that the front door has remained locked, when it really feels as if clients have been coming and going throughout the day. Contrary to my previous assumptions, real emotions have been contacted and expressed, real issues have been confronted, and real work has been done.
I am now convinced of the benefits of online therapy, not least its convenience and accessibility, and I’ve no doubt that it is here to stay. One drawback is that I find it more tiring, interacting with a screen all day, and I’ve discovered that at most five appointments per day is my personal limit.
My work as BACP’s ethics consultant for supervisors has carried on much the same as before. The uptake of the service has grown, as members appreciate the opportunity to talk things through in real time, to be heard and understood, and to consider different options as together we grapple with ethical dilemmas.
Surprisingly, relatively few queries have related specifically to COVID-19, but I think the heightened anxiety and stress that are around generally have brought other issues to the surface, whether for clients or supervisees or supervisors. Maybe the globally shared experience of facing illness, bereavement, unemployment, uncertainty, insecurity, etc has exposed us all to things beyond our control, and somehow made it more acceptable to talk about them.
‘Self-care for the therapist’ is perhaps another cliché, but I have come to take it more seriously than ever. I have tried to seize whatever opportunities there are for breaks, walks in the fresh air, ensuring I switch off the computer, savouring the present moment, being sustained by my faith. I am learning to appreciate everything for what it is, and everyone for who they are.
Our ethics consultant Stephen Hitchcock gives his thoughts on moving out of lockdown
Sharing your experiences
Marking one year since the start of lockdown, we’re sharing your blogs about the impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on you, your practice and your clients
Guidance and resources for members
Views expressed in this article are the views of the writer and not necessarily the views of BACP. Publication does not imply endorsement of the writer’s views. Reasonable care has been taken to avoid errors but no liability will be accepted for any errors that may occur.