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 return to normal working.

This guidance aims to help you review and develop your organisational policy and procedures relating to service delivers, and offers some flexibility in our requirements. 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. 

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 telephone 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.

Training requirements

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

We’ll continue to be flexible in the short term but 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.

We’re currently reviewing the Telephone and e-counselling competence framework which will affect online and telephone placements for both students and qualified practitioners. Once completed, we’ll update the course accreditation criteria to incorporate these competences, providing a clear position for courses and services to meet in the long term.

In the meantime, when sourcing appropriate training, ensure it covers the key elements from the Telephone and e-counselling competences and curriculum, including:

  • contracting, and how to obtain written or verbal agreement to the contract
  • boundaries
  • undertaking risk assessments and managing risk
  • working with and managing disinhibition
  • working with silence, particularly for telephone work
  • working safely and securely online
  • confidentiality
  • relevant UK legislation, for example GDPR

The focus of any online training and practice should be on using online video platforms, not text-based counselling.

Practice requirements

Clients receiving online or phone therapy must be based in the UK as there are additional legislative and insurance issues for practice in other countries.

You also need to ensure that:

  • there is capacity (ie competent practitioners) to undertake assessments of new clients for their suitability to work with a counsellor or trainee and for receiving therapy online or over the 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

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 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. Take time to fully consider the potential issues and put together a plan of action for the next six months. The lockdown is easing, it’s not ending, so there's time for thoughtful and advised transition.

Online or phone therapy is not suitable for all clients, especially if they're unable to secure a safe, confidential space for counselling. Some clients will have decided to take a break from therapy until you can offer face to face sessions again, so they will be your first consideration.

However, make sure you move back gradually and are careful not to pressurise staff to return to the office environment. You’ll only be able to consider a full return to face to face support when social distancing is no longer required.

Before moving back

Check that your insurance covers your practitioners for face to face work as insurers have not all adopted the same position on this issue.

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 legally required 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?
  • 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

Working through temporary lockdowns

Services and placement providers need to consider the ethical implications of the impact of any changing or varying levels of lockdown, particularly when working near to country borders in the UK. You may need to review policies to take into account how face to face working is managed should a local lockdown be introduced

If you need to return to remote online or phone working after a period of face to face contact, you should consider:

  • what are the ethical implications of changing the format of therapy more than once?
  • what is in the best interest of both clients and practitioners?
  • how can contracts be managed to reflect any varying nature of the session format?
  • can practitioners access equipment and support if they’re required to work online again?
  • how can you work in collaboration with training providers to support any students on placements?

Due to this uncertainty, you may decide to maintain online or phone working until the virus is under more control and to ensure safety of clients,  practitioners and staff. We expect that services will return to face to face working at different stages, depending on organisational policy, location and the context or setting.

If you also provide training placements, please see our guidance on coronavirus and training.

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. However, we do expect all services to return to face to face counselling as soon as reasonably possible.  

If you wish to continue online or phone counselling once restrictions are lifted, you’ll need to submit a changes application form to encompass remote practices. We’re currently considering when and how this will come into effect and will keep you informed.   

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