The variety of settings, contexts and location where practitioners, trainers and students are based creates a wide range of issues to be considered as you plan for how you’ll provide training in the future.
This guidance aims to help you review and develop your organisational policies and procedures relating to course delivery. Our focus is on the wellbeing and safety of all staff, trainers, trainees and clients.
We have reviewed our guidance following the latest government announcements. The information provided reflects the current situation.
While restrictions have been in place we’ve introduced flexibilities to enable trainees to practise online or by phone providing they’re assessed as competent to work in this way and have appropriate support and supervision to mirror the mode of practice delivery. We’ve also introduced flexibilities for training providers to deliver training remotely via synchronous online video platforms.
Concurrent to this, we’ve developed competences in online and phone therapy, and 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.
You can access the OPT competence framework and curriculum here: Online and phone therapy (OPT) competence framework and user guide).
We’ve updated 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
For courses who want to offer online training in the future, we're introducing changes to our requirements for teaching delivery and placements for new cohorts starting from 1 September, including a requirement for a minimum of 70% of training to be delivered face to face and in person. The remaining 30% can be delivered remotely providing the delivery is synchronous, live and with a tutor. You can find further detail about our guidelines on our website, and these can be incorporated into your planning for teaching delivery after restrictions are lifted.
If it’s not possible to be in the room for 70% of the training hours due to restrictions, 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
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.
Additional CPD such as the Open University primer module may be useful to supplement OPT training. If the placement provides the training, the course is responsible for checking that it covers what is needed to meet the competency areas laid out in the OPT framework and curriculum.
Courses and placements need to work together to ensure that:
- text-based, asynchronous online practice aren’t counted towards the supervised placement hours in core practitioner training
- students can be assessed individually for their readiness to begin working with clients, including working remotely
- students are only working with UK based clients due to the particular legislative, insurance and safeguarding considerations for international practice
- OPT placement hours are only carried out with adults, not with children and young people (under 16 years old) on adult focussed core training courses
- they have clear procedures for practice placements, including procedures for remote working and any requirements for homeworking
- agreements between students, the placement provider and the course include details of where the responsibility lies for data protection for the student's remote practice, and of the placement's remote working support structures, including:
- where OPT sessions will be conducted, with a clear policy for homeworking if relevant
- if the placement will supply the student with appropriate equipment for conducting remote sessions. If not, a clear policy and procedure for the use of personal equipment that includes data security and protection is required.
- how students can debrief after OPT sessions and where to take concerns about their remote client work
- information about additional support services and onward referral pathways that students can share with OPT clients when required
- procedures for when the technology fails during an OPT client session
- how clients are assessed for their suitability to work with students, and for working online or over the phone (and for blended working if permitted by the placement and the course)
For students who accumulate most or all placement hours online or by phone, while COVID-19 restrictions are in place, 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. Please also remember that these flexibilities are only temporary until COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, after which the majority of placement hours will need to be conducted face-to-face.
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 while any government restrictions are in place, 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
Once restrictions are lifted, all placement hours with children and young people need to be face to face to meet current BACP requirements and professional standards.
We’re now developing standards for working remotely with children and young people so we’ll share an update on this in the near future.
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 should carry out a full risk assessment before returning to face to face training or working and should work within government guidelines.
You should consider the ethical implications of asking students to resume face to face practice 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.
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