In January 2020 I opened the doors to my counselling business. Then, just a couple of months later we were hit by a pandemic that would bring the world to a standstill.

My immediate reaction was shock and fear, worry about what this would mean for me and my family, but also my newly formed counselling business. Working from a room in my home, the changes meant I could no longer offer face to face sessions.

Discussions with my supervisor and on counselling forums turned to telephone and online video counselling as this seemed the only option available, however I had little confidence about this way of working.

Let me share with you how I went from a feeling of dread about the consequences of the pandemic to one of hope and success with a business that is now thriving despite COVID-19.

Effective communication

I was immediately pro-active with my clients. Keeping my clients informed about their counselling sessions through these changing times was important.

As soon as news broke of the pandemic, I sent weekly text messages to my clients.

Basing my messages on the latest Government advice, I prepared my clients for the changes that might happen and how we would navigate this to continue to work together.

After three weeks I made the decision to stop all face to face work with my clients and confirmed the alternatives we had been discussing, giving them the choice to move to telephone or online video counselling.

Of my 25 clients, 14 made the decision to move to an online platform, whilst the others decided this was not suitable for them.

Flexible working

A 'new normal' was developing and our daily lives were ever changing. My counselling practice needed to fit in with this new environment.

BACP issued information about online counselling and CPD was offered to help counsellors transition. I signed up for these opportunities, to ensure I was working safely with my clients despite the changes.

My working hours changed to be more flexible to fit around my clients’ needs with changing home environments - children being home schooled, people working from home etc.

Privacy was a big consideration. We became creative, with bathrooms and cars becoming private spaces for clients to ensure safety and confidentiality.

Updating my marketing

Gaining new business is an important part of any successful business.

With all that was happening around us, businesses closing and people being furloughed, I needed to ensure potential clients were fully aware I was open for business and able to offer online services.

I immediately updated all my counselling directory entries and website to reflect my new way of working.

I suspect many people looking for counselling are not aware that online services can be an option, so it was essential to get this important message to those who visited my directory entries or website.

As I specialise in working with anxiety, I focused speaking directly to people with anxiety as this was increasing for people through the pandemic.

Use of social media

It was clear that access to mental health services was going to be affected by the pandemic and social media was a great platform to reach more people.

Having an online and social media presence seemed to be increasingly important for any business. Online sessions have made it possible to work with people nationwide and social media is a great platform to reach more potential clients.

I went live on Facebook with hints and tips for managing anxiety through the pandemic, and this is now a weekly feature on my Facebook business page with over 50 videos available for people to watch.

These videos have helped me reach a whole new audience and to raise the awareness of counselling generally.

A catalyst

Thankfully, the worry and fear I had about how my business would survive were completely unfounded - it has thrived through this period.

I have learnt so much about myself and opportunities for my counselling business, and I can now reflect that COVID-19 was a catalyst for enhancing the services I offer to clients.

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.