In response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, we understand that training providers are currently reviewing organisational policy and procedures relating to course delivery. We appreciate that this is a difficult and exceptional situation and that some flexibility in our requirements for placements and training is required.

Can trainees work with placement clients online or over the phone as part of a coronavirus contingency plan?

On a temporary basis we’ll allow some flexibility for telephone or online working provided that the course ensures students are competent and well supported to deliver counselling in this way.

If considering this, you need to think about how you can prepare students for alternative methods of working, and what additional supervision arrangements might be required to support them in working this way.

You should consider and address the following questions:

  • would the student be working within their competence?
  • how can you suitably equip students to work online or over the phone?
  • are the students' supervisors competent to offer supervision online or over the phone?
  • do the supervisors agree to working in this way with students?
  • what would happen if a client is at risk of harming themselves? Would the students know what to do?
  • what additional support will be in place for students working in this way, from the course, supervisors and placements?
  • do the placement providers agree with students working in this way? Will they be able to continue mentoring students?
  • what would the placement providers need to have in place? Would students undertake sessions at home or within the service? This needs to address questions such as having a confidential space to work from, suitable IT equipment, adequate internet security and GDPR data protection considerations relating to client’s personal data. For example, how will personal data, records and notes be transported from the placement and stored in at the student's premises.

Moving to online or telephone working will only be acceptable if the course has a considered plan for ensuring safe, ethical practice, and as an interim arrangement. As soon as face-to-face counselling can resume safely within the placement, students should begin seeing clients in person again.

I’m a trainee counsellor. If my placement switches to online and telephone counselling during the coronavirus outbreak can I still count these towards my qualifying hours?

While we're making allowances for online or telephone sessions counting towards qualifying hours on a temporary basis during the outbreak, it's up to the individual training institutions as to whether they feel this aligns with their protocols and standards. So you'll need to get confirmation from your training institution, as well as getting the go-ahead from your placement.

There are a range of things you need to consider relating to telephone and online counselling. Some of these are covered below or see the further guidance resources.

Can current students begin taking on new clients for online or telephone counselling?

In principle, students can begin working with new clients online or over the phone provided they're competent to do so and adequate support structures are in place.

However, there are several new areas that need to be addressed first. We're proposing that students will need some additional training on:

  • contracting
  • undertaking risk assessments and managing risk
  • working with, and managing disinhibition
  • working safely and securely online
  • relevant UK legislation, for example GDPR

Just as courses assess students for their readiness to begin working with clients, there needs to be some form of assessment of student competence to work with new clients online or by phone.

The focus of any online or telephone training and practice should be on using online video platforms or the telephone, not text-based or email counselling which requires additional skills and knowledge.

At this stage, students should only begin working with clients who will be able to attend face-to-face sessions once restrictions are lifted.

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

Courses will also need to work with placements to ensure:

  • placements have the capacity (competent practitioners) to undertake assessments of new clients for their suitability to work with a trainee and for working online or over the phone
  • placements have sufficient support structures for students to debrief or take concerns about their remote 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 or telephone counselling sessions are adequately spaced to take account of the intensity of working in this way
  • any necessary adjustments are made to the four-way agreement

Students should return to face-to-face working as soon as possible - but only when practical and safe to do so. This is a short-term measure and does not mean that students are qualified as an ‘online counsellor’ once the pandemic has ended. However, they may be able to continue to work in this way after they've completed their core training by taking further training to address any gaps in their competence.

Can first year students start working remotely with clients?

We’re currently reviewing the Telephone and c-counselling competences, due for completion in Autumn 2020. This will enable us to identify the basic competences for students on core training courses.

However, we recognise that returning to face-to-face teaching and placements may not be possible next term, so we've developed the following guidance to support your contingency planning:

Tutor contact hours – online teaching

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. Courses should consider the following:

  • how to incorporate taught sessions, PD or experiential groups, skills groups and observations into an online format
  • whether 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 to prepare trainees for online delivery of training – what might they need in order to fully engage? Are additional support structures required?
  • if there is the technical infrastructure to deliver online training
  • how to access 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

* We're exploring how we can support trainers in developing their skills to deliver training online. Please revisit this page for more information soon.

Placement hours for new cohorts

Where possible, courses should consider delaying placement start dates until 2021 to give students the best chance of getting started with clients face-to-face. However, we recognise this may not be feasible for all courses and so students may begin work with clients remotely if: 

  • students have been taught and assessed in some basic competence in online or telephone working, including:
    • contracting
    • boundaries
    • risk assessment 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 course can deliver training (incorporated into the course timetable or as a separate module) and/or alongside input from other sources, for example placement input, OU primer etc.
  • the course assesses students for:
    • readiness to begin working with clients online or by phone
    • competence to work remotely
  • the student has appropriate supervision in place with a supervisor who has experience and confidence in working online or over the telephone
  • clients are assessed by an experienced practitioner in the placement for suitability to work with a trainee and for working remotely

Can practice hours carried out online or over the phone be counted towards the 100 hours of supervised practice hours required for membership and later towards accreditation? 

We're making allowances for online or telephone sessions counting towards qualifying hours on a temporary basis providing all the conditions in the earlier question are met.

Any practice hours that are not approved by the course cannot be counted towards accreditation.

In the current situation we're not setting a limit of how many sessions can be online or by phone, provided students are able to return to face-to-face work as soon as is reasonable, practical and safe to do so.

Students should not begin working remotely with clients who are unable to attend face-to-face sessions unless an ethical judgement has been made for continuing to work remotely after lockdown restrictions have eased.

The following requirements for student and individual membership apply to telephone and online practice where these hours have not been included in the assessment framework of the course.

Your placement hours must be:

  • carried out with genuine clients, rather than peers from your course for example
  • in an appropriate setting with appropriate clients. Counselling services are an ideal setting as they are likely to assess whether clients are suitable for your level of competence. Your training provider should not allow placement hours through private practice or with client groups that have not been pre-assessed as suitable - such as children and young people or those with complex mental health needs.
  • assessed (or marked) as an integral part of your training
  • supervised. Supervision is important at all stages of seeing clients. For trainees, we recommend a ratio of one hour's supervision to eight hours counselling. We also recommend you speak with your supervisor fortnightly.

In the longer term, and once the pandemic is over, we’ll accept up to 30 online or telephone placement hours for courses who want to embed telephone or online practice. In the meantime and while restrictions are in place, we're being flexible about this requirement regarding placement hours for membership and accreditation.

Can training institutions carry out teaching hours online?

We understand that direct, face-to-face tutor contact may not be possible if an organisation decides to temporarily suspend students from attending. We’ll allow some remote or online teaching and learning to take place to ease the pressure on courses at this time, as long as face-to-face, direct teaching resumes as soon as your organisation is open to students.

It's up to the course to address this issue as appropriate and to ensure that students have enough teaching hours to meet the requirements of the course and its learning outcomes.

Do trainees need to have received training to work online or over the phone? Does the course need to deliver this training or can the placement provider?

Some training is required to ensure competence in this way of working (please see above). This can be provided by the course and/or the placement, and in the current circumstances, can be delivered via blended learning.

If the placement provides the training, the course is responsible for checking that it covers what is needed for competence.

Full training to become a telephone or online counsellor typically takes 80 hours, covers all of the evidence-based telephone and e-counselling competence framework and is undertaken post-qualifying. However, lockdown has created a situation where trainees have needed to receive some training to work online or over the phone to enable them to complete their practice hours with the right support in place. It's unlikely such training will have included the full competence framework, so it's anticipated trainees will need further CPD or training post-qualifying to be able to work ethically as a telephone or online counsellor after completing their course.

Can trainees access supervision either online or by phone?

Supervisors need to be competent and confident in working online or by phone in order to offer appropriate supervision, taking into account ethical issues, boundary issues, practicalities and GDPR. Trainees should clarify with their course provider that the arrangements they’ve agreed with their supervisor meet course requirements.

Will there be any exceptions made to the 100 hours of supervised practice hours required for membership?

The current 100 hours requirement sets a national standard for entry to the profession. We would encourage courses to be as flexible as possible to enable students to complete these hours, for example via an extension or mitigating circumstances policy.

What if the service provider wants students to work face to face?

Placements need to consider the ethical implications of asking trainees to continue with face to face work, particularly in relation to the students’ health and self-care needs and fitness to practise, and what's in the best interest of each client group. Both students and placement providers can refer to current Government guidance on social distancing and self-isolation.

Students with specific health concerns, who are caring for vulnerable people or who have concerns about the safety of a placement (for example not able to socially distance) should not be forced back to face to face work.

When considering whether to continue seeing clients face to face, students can also refer to the Ethical Framework, in particular to:

Care of self as a practitioner, point 91: 
We will take responsibility for our own wellbeing as essential to sustaining good practice with our clients by:

  • monitoring and maintaining our own psychological and physical health, particularly that we are sufficiently resilient and resourceful to undertake our work in ways that satisfy professional standards

Summary

If considering alternative methods of practice such as telephone or online, you should always consider the Ethical Framework, in particular Working to professional standards, point 13:

We must be competent to deliver the services being offered to at least fundamental professional standards or better. When we consider satisfying professional standards requires consulting others with relevant expertise, seeking second opinions, or making referrals, we will do so in ways that meet our commitments and obligations for client confidentiality and data protection.