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.

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 contact 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 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 within the placement, students should begin seeing clients in person again.

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 contact counting towards qualifying hours on a temporary basis providing that the all the conditions in the previous question are met.

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

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.

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.

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 practice. Both students and placement providers can refer to current Government guidance on social distancing and self-isolation.

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

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. This can be provided by the course 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.

Summary

If considering alternative methods of practice such as phone 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.

For the latest updates and guidance on the coronavirus outbreak, see...