The variety of settings, contexts and locations where services and practitioners are based creates a wide range of issues to be considered as you plan for how your service will provide therapy in the future.

This guidance aims to help you review and develop your organisational policies and procedures relating to service delivery. Our focus is on the wellbeing and safety of all staff, practitioners and clients.

We advise all members to keep up to date with the latest advice about coronavirus from the Government and from the NHS. 

We have reviewed our guidance following the latest government announcements. The information provided reflects the current situation.

Online and phone therapy

While the latest Government advice opens up the possibility of returning to face to face working, you may wish to maintain the option of providing online (video) and phone counselling due to reduced waiting lists and DNAs. Some clients will also wish to continue to receive therapy this way rather than return to face to face sessions, and some services may wish to deliver a blended service moving beyond the pandemic restrictions which combines different modes of delivery. 

Training requirements

Under normal circumstances, it wouldn’t be appropriate to deliver online or phone therapy unless you’re adequately trained. During lockdown we accepted that trainees and practitioners could practise this way as long as they’d completed basic primer training to be ‘…competent to deliver the services being offered to at least fundamental professional standards or better. (BACP Ethical Framework, working to professional standards, point 13).

You now need to determine how you’ll upskill your practitioners for this work. You need to consider training and assessment issues, financial demands and formal policies.

In February 2021, we published the Online and phone therapy (OPT) competence framework. The competences set out the knowledge, understanding and skills that are required for OPT practice.  In May 2021, we published the OPT training curriculum which is underpinned by the OPT competences. The OPT curriculum is aimed at training providers who wish to deliver OPT training. The curriculum has different options for practitioners with varying levels of existing competence ranging from an initial core training to an extended course, or top-up training and CPD. 

BACP’s OPT competence framework can be used by practitioners to map their existing competence and identify further training and development needs. If a practitioner feels that they are competent in all areas included in the competence framework for their ways of working, then there would be no need to seek out another training course. If, however, gaps in knowledge/skills for working remotely are identified, further training or CPD will be needed to ensure competence.  

You can access the OPT competence framework and curriculum here: Online and phone therapy (OPT) competence framework and user guide (bacp.co.uk).

Students on placement will be able to continue to work remotely provided the course has suitably prepared them for working in this way. You can find out more about student OPT placements and training requirements here: Guidance for online teaching delivery and remote supervised placements (bacp.co.uk).

When sourcing appropriate training, for therapists working within your service, we recommend that you look for a training course that is informed by BACP’s OPT competences and/or curriculum. 

Practice requirements

For trainees on core trainings, clients must be based in the UK as there are additional legislative and insurance issues for practice in other countries. You may also need to check that your insurance provider covers your service to work remotely. See further guidance about remote placements in our guidance for remote core training and placements.  

You also need to ensure that:

  • there are sufficient competent practitioners to undertake assessments of new clients for their suitability to work with a counsellor or trainee and for receiving therapy online or by phone
  • there are sufficient support structures for counsellors and trainees to debrief or take issues of concern about their remote client work
  • counsellors and trainees know what to do and where to go if they have concerns about client risk
  • counsellors and trainees have access to a list of additional support services and referral pathways that can be shared with clients when needed
  • online and phone therapy sessions are adequately spaced to take account of the intensity of working in this way
  • agreements are in place to inform clients about:
    • who will contact whom
    • what constitutes a missed online or phone session i.e. the therapist will try to contact the client a set number of times during a time limited period
    • how therapists and trainees will manage technical glitches e.g. use of a second phone when working via this medium
    • agreeing clear boundaries e.g. counsellors and trainees won’t make contact with clients by phone or text in between sessions

Returning to face to face practice

Counselling services that are considering reintroducing face to face therapy must implement safety measures to ensure staff and clients can follow social distancing rules. We advise that you review the updated government guidance carefully.

You’ll need to consider the return to face to face work contextually, carefully and in the best interest of both staff and clients. 

Online or phone therapy is not suitable for all clients, especially if they're unable to secure a safe, confidential space for counselling. 

Before moving back

You’ll need to undertake a deep clean of your business premises. Whether this is carried out by volunteer staff or a professional cleaning agency, you’ll need a clear action plan.

To open your business, you’re recommended to carry out a full risk assessment that considers:

  • how many clients and practitioners can safely be in the building at one time
  • how will you ensure people can keep at least one metre apart. Are your counselling rooms big enough to maintain social distancing? What furniture can you safely remove?
  • having adequate ventilation
  • provision of hand sanitisers and face masks
  • access to toilets
  • cleaning routines between clients
  • whether you have a lone working policy or will office staff be onsite
  • whether contracts need to be reviewed to include change of setting and test and trace
  • revising payment methods to avoid handling cash or cheques
  • revising emergency procedures to ensure safe evacuation, if required

If you also provide training placements, please see our guidance on coronavirus and training and our guidance for online delivery of placements.  

Your service accreditation

During the coronavirus restrictions, your accredited status will not be affected by introducing online or phone counselling services as an alternative to face to face work, even if this is not usually included within your accredited services. If you wish to continue online or phone counselling once restrictions are lifted, or if your service intends to move forwards with a hybrid service combining a mix of face to face, online and/or phone therapy, you can submit a changes application form to inform us of this permanent change.   

We’re continuing to process new applications and renewals, but if you have any queries or concerns, please email accred.service@bacp.co.uk