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 policy 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.

We advise all members to keep up to date with the latest advice about coronavirus from the Government and from the NHS. 

Working online

Training

If you need to close your premises, we’ll allow training to be delivered through online teaching as long as face to face, direct teaching resumes as soon as you can reopen to students. It's up to you to ensure that students have enough teaching hours to meet the requirements of the course and its learning outcomes.

We’re currently reviewing the Telephone and e-counselling competences, which will enable us to identify the basic competences for students on core training courses going forward. In the meantime, this guidance should support contingency planning for students starting from Autumn 2020.

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. 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. (We’re currently exploring how we can support trainers to develop their skills in delivering training online.)
  • 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

Placements

If possible, you should consider delaying placement start dates until 2021 to give students the best chance of getting started with clients face to face and in the room.

This won’t be feasible for all courses, so some students will have to begin working with clients remotely. Online or telephone working will only be acceptable if you have a considered plan for ensuring safe, ethical practice, and as an interim arrangement.

Students can start placements online or by telephone, 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
  • 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

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 telephone 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 telephone, 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 over the telephone

Courses and placements need to work together to ensure that:

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

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 telephone counsellors once the pandemic has ended. Full training covers all the evidence-based telephone and e-counselling 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 a telephone or online counsellor.

Students should return to face to face working as soon as possible - but only when practical and safe to do so.

Offering online or telephone 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 telephone 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 16-18 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 telephone 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. 

Working through temporary lockdowns

Training 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. Should you need to return to remote online teaching or working after a period of face to face contact:

  • what are the ethical implications of changing the format of therapy more than once
  • what is in the best interest of both clients and students
  • how can contracts be managed to reflect any varying nature of the session format
  • can students access equipment and support if they’re required to work online again
  • can trainers transition back to online teaching and can students access e-learning content easily

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