The variety of settings, contexts and location where practitioners, trainers and students are based creates a wide range of issues to be considered as we plan a return to normal working.
This guidance aims to help you review and develop your organisational policies and procedures relating to course delivery and offers some flexibility in our requirements for placements and training. Our focus is on the wellbeing and safety of all staff, trainers, trainees and clients.
While trainings are running remotely as a result of COVID-19 restrictions, we’ll allow training to be delivered through online teaching as long as face to face, direct teaching is resumed as soon as it’s safe to do so. It's up to training providers to ensure that students have enough teaching hours to meet the requirements of the course and its learning outcomes.
We’ve updated the Telephone and e-counselling competence framework, now called the Online and phone therapy (OPT) competence framework, which will enable us to identify the basic competence for students on core training courses after lockdown restrictions have ended. The OPT framework will also affect online and phone placements for both students and qualified practitioners. We’ll be updating the course accreditation criteria to incorporate these competences, providing a clear position for courses to meet in the long term after restrictions have lifted.
Tutor contact hours
While social distancing measures are in place, live online teaching that is facilitated by tutors in a virtual classroom is an acceptable substitute for direct tutor contact hours. Courses should consider:
- how to incorporate taught sessions, personal development and experiential groups, skills groups and observations into an online format
- if the trainers are competent and confident to deliver training online, and if not, how they can up-skill.
- how to restructure the timetable to allow breaks throughout each training day, to take account of the intensity of delivering online teaching
- how trainees are prepared for online delivery of training – what might they need in order to fully engage? Any additional support structures?
- if there is the technical infrastructure to deliver online training
- how to provide administrative and technical support to quickly resolve any difficulties experienced during the training
- how to make reasonable adjustments for students who are visually or hearing impaired or need other adjustments
As the lockdown has continued, many students have had to start placements remotely, whether that be online or by phone. For this way of working to be acceptable training providers need to have a considered plan for ensuring, safe, ethical practice, and as an interim arrangement.
Students can start placements online or by phone, provided that they have been taught and assessed in basic competences for this work, including:
- contracting, and how to obtain written or verbal agreement to the contract
- undertaking risk assessments and managing risk
- working with and managing disinhibition
- working with silence, particularly for phone work
- working safely and securely online and by phone
- relevant UK legislation, for example GDPR
Courses can deliver this training within the course timetable or as a separate module, of it can be provided by or alongside input from other sources – such as the placement provider.
Additional CPD such as the Open University primer module may be helpful for students who are transferring their existing client work to online or phone formats. If the placement provides the training, the course is responsible for checking that it covers what is needed for competence.
Any remote training and practice should focus on using online video platforms or the phone, not text-based or email counselling which requires additional skills and knowledge.
The course needs to ensure students are:
- ready to begin working with clients online or by phone
- competent to work online or by phone
- able to access appropriate supervision with a supervisor who has experience and confidence in working online or by phone
Courses and placements need to work together to ensure that:
- there are a sufficient number of competent practitioners to undertake assessments of new clients for their suitability to work with a trainee and for receiving therapy online or by phone
- there are sufficient support structures in placements for students to debrief or take concerns about their client work
- students know what to do and where to go if they have concerns about client risk
- students have access to a list of additional support services and referral pathways that can be shared with clients when needed
- online and phone counselling sessions are adequately spaced to take account of the intensity of working in this way
- any necessary adjustments to the four-way agreement are made
- 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
- obtaining client consent for students to record sessions
While in training, clients must be based in the UK as there are additional legislative and insurance issues for practice in other countries.
This is a short-term measure and does not mean students are qualified online or phone counsellors once the pandemic has ended. Full training that covers all the evidence-based online and phone therapy competence framework, is typically undertaken post-qualifying and includes some assessment of competence to work in this way. It's anticipated trainees will need further CPD or training post-qualifying to be able to work ethically as an online or phone counsellor.
For students who accumulate most or all placement hours online or by phone, you’ll also need to consider how they can be assessed to qualify as competent to work face to face with clients.
We’ve been working with accredited courses and approved qualification providers to ensure students on these programmes are competent to work face to face with clients on completion of their courses. This may be by extending the training period or adding an additional level of assessment for face to face working.
This is necessary to:
- set and uphold a consistent standard in line with our professional duty to protect the public
- meet the requirements for BACP individual membership
- maintain access to face to face employment opportunities and future career progression
- ensure that those who qualify during the pandemic period are able to work within limits of competence in the future by being ‘competent to deliver the services being offered to at least fundamental professional standards or better’ (BACP Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions, Working to professional standards, point 13)
We strongly urge any non-accredited or approved courses to follow a similar approach.
Please see our guidance on assessing competence to work face to face with clients.
Courses will not be able to qualify students to work competently and ethically with clients face to face unless they have assessment processes in place to allow students to demonstrate this competency. We advise that training providers continue to communicate with students to ensure clarity on how they’ll be assessed as competent to work face to face and complete their award.
Offering online or phone therapy to children and young people while in training
Training providers must develop measures to ensure that appropriate training and assessment (linked to competences) is in place before trainees can practise online or by phone with children and young people. We recommended that students only work with existing clients under 16 who they already have a relationship with.
There is more flexibility for placement hours with the 16 to 18 age group, providing students have:
- taken part in additional learning provided by training providers and been assessed as competent
- a placement provider that supports this work and appropriate insurance is in place
- a supervisor experienced in providing online or phone counselling
- taken part in additional online training as recommended by us
- registered with the ICO if using their own devices
Returning to face to face training and placements
The decision to return to face to face training or practice needs to be carefully considered, taking into account high-risk groups such as vulnerable people with complex health needs and people from a BAME background. Training and placements providers should work together to support students in their transition to face to face working with clients. This may include a need for students to recontract with clients. All providers will also need to carry out a full risk assessment before returning to face to face training or working.
You should consider the ethical implications of asking trainees to resume face to face work or training, particularly in relation to the student’s self-care needs and fitness to practice, and the best interests of each client group.
Courses should consider students’ safety and associated risk factors before returning to face to face teaching, give sufficient notice and offer support during the transitional period.
Students with specific health concerns, who are caring for vulnerable people or who have concerns about the safety of a placement (such as not being able to maintain social distancing) should not be forced back to face to face work or training.
Guidance and resources for members
Coronavirus and counselling services
Latest updates and information for managers of counselling and psychotherapy services
Coronavirus and students
Latest updates and information for trainees currently taking counselling and psychotherapy courses