With no end to the pandemic in sight, some students may reach the end of their core practitioner training without any face to face experience with clients. This guidance offers recommendations and considerations to ensure that these students are competent to work face to face with clients on completion of their courses.

We've worked with our accredited and approved courses to set underlying principles for training. These are to:

  • be as flexible as possible while maintaining standards
  • make assessment decisions around students which are based on sufficient evidence
  • act in the best interest of clients
  • work collaboratively with trainers, students, placements and supervisors
  • ensure students are competent in online or phone work which requires some basic training
  • continue with online live teaching where possible
  • be flexible and exercise extension policies where appropriate to enable students to complete their 100 placement hours and the course
  • ensure students have sufficient and appropriate supervision to support their online or phone practice
  • ensure placements have fully trained practitioners to carry out appropriate assessment of clients
  • ensure students can sufficiently support clients in transitioning from face to face to remote working, and back to face to face (when safe to do so)

While attention initially focused on supporting new cohorts, we're now looking at how we can support final year students working towards course completion. Based on a consensus in feedback from our accredited and approved partners that competence to work face to face needs to be assessed within core training, we've added a new principle:

  • ensure students are competent to work face to face (in the room) with clients

We’re proposing an emergency interim measure for assessing students’ competence where placement hours are limited to remote sessions. This aims to balance maintaining a standard with the need for flexibility. The key concern is how to ensure students are competent and qualified to work face to face (in the room) with clients on completion of their course, as this is a requirement for BACP individual membership. We strongly urge courses that aren’t BACP accredited or approved to follow a similar approach. 

Option 1

Existing and preferred option

Use extension policies to give students the best chance of gaining the practice hours they need to demonstrate competence in working face to face with clients. 

Option 2

Emergency interim measure for students currently in their final year of training. As soon as it is reasonable and safe to do so, we expect face to face placement hours to resume.

Carry out a robust assessment to ensure that students who are likely to have completed all of their 100 placement hours remotely are competent to work face to face before they go forward for their final award.

When considering this option, you should think about:

  • the proportion of online to phone placement hours that the student has accrued. Sessions conducted via online video platforms are more closely aligned to face to face counselling so this option may not be suitable for students who only have experience of working over the phone
  • the course's current assessment of competence. This option may not be appropriate if you have concerns about a student’s ability. 

These assessments might include activities such as:

A peer counselling model

Students conduct a number of face to face (in the room) sessions of 50 minutes with the same volunteer client, including a tutor observation of at least one live or recorded session that demonstrates the student’s ability to:

  • establish and maintain a clear therapeutic framework when working face to face
  • attend to and make therapeutic use of non-verbal communication including body language

A written assessment

This should enable the student to demonstrate:

  • an understanding of the therapeutic relationship when the full range of sensory experience is involved
  • an understanding of the contextual and practical considerations of working face to face
  • the differences between working face to face and online or over the phone
  • the ability to work safely and ethically face to face with clients

Developed criteria for the supervisor’s report

This enables supervisors to contribute to the assessment of face to face competence.

 

A list of possible areas for consideration when assessing competence is given at the end of this page.

Option 2 may not be suitable for all courses, such as those unable to accommodate socially distanced sessions. Nor will they be suitable for all students, for example, those unable to attend in person due to health reasons, those who have only accrued phone placement hours or where the course has concerns about a student’s competence.

If you decide to use this option, consider what students will be missing due to not attending their placement setting before they qualify and how this might be replicated, for example:

  • informal chats with counselling colleagues and mentors
  • opportunities for developing professional networks and relationships
  • the clearer separation between home and work and implications for self-care

We're monitoring the situation closely and will inform you of any changes. These options will be reviewed by July 2021 latest.

Important information for qualifying students during the pandemic

Courses already have to identify in the course completion statement what a student's practice experience with clients has been.

For all cohorts qualifying during the pandemic period, regardless of which option courses choose, we recommend including confirmation that the student has been assessed as competent to work face to face (in the room) with clients in the course completion statement. This will help to prevent any issues when the student wishes to apply for individual membership and registration.

Areas for consideration when assessing competence for working face to face

Contextual and practical considerations 

  • preparing the room after other counsellors or if the room has been used for other purposes
  • waiting areas
  • entering the room
  • managing talk outside the room on the way to a session
  • negotiating the space, for example positioning of seating
  • drinks and tissues
  • working with disturbance, noise and interruptions by others using the building or counselling rooms
  • changes to the counselling room between sessions
  • decreased flexibility in the timing and frequency of sessions
  • temperature or heating
  • agency policies relevant to working on-site 
  • the balance of responsibility for the environment sits with the counsellor or agency, whereas when working remotely responsibility for ensuring comfort and privacy lies with the client. How might this feel different for both student and client?
  • the anonymous and uncontaminated space of the therapy room - or conversely - issues relating to working in an agency room where the décor, pictures or the positioning of chairs is pre-determined

Many of these are currently influenced by social distancing and may be for some time, even when face to face sessions can resume. Consider how students can be adequately prepared for managing these in the future.

The client

  • paying attention to the client’s presentation, for example their presenting age compared to their physical age, their appearance, dress or smell, can provide further information about the client and their lifestyle
  • attending to body language and non-verbal cues which can provide more information and influence the process and interventions used, for example:
    • the mood of the client might be more easily picked up as they walk into the room
    • changes in skin tone
    • shifts in posture
    • breathing patterns
  • differences in other information gained about the client, for example while the trainee has more information in relation to body language and other senses, if they have been working online with clients in their living space this type of additional information will be absent (which can be either helpful or not for the client and the process)

Self

  • attention to own body language and non-verbal cues (including considerations around clothing etc) and how these may be interpreted or perceived by the client
  • how working face to face might influence the emotional impact of the work on the counsellor

Issues relating to power and risk

  • awareness of risk and risk assessment when working face to face, including safety considerations when lone working
  • changes to the power balance as compared to working remotely, for example the client may feel they have more power when online or over the phone, yet face to face they may feel they have less or vice versa
  • working with situations face to face where the trainee feels intimidated by a client
  • awareness and consideration of shifts in power balance where online or phone work moves to face to face working
  • the impact on the level of challenge; a potential for increased or decreased level of challenge, for example does the trainee feel as safe to challenge the client when working face to face or conversely, are they more challenging? Do they feel more or less able to take risks face to face?
  • potential for increased or decreased disclosure depending on the client

Managing the session

  • contracting with the client -awareness of the limits of confidentiality and other ethical and professional boundaries pertaining to working face to face
  • how spontaneity or creativity in the work might differ, especially where resources may be more readily available when working face to face
  • although not recommended, some students may have been taking some notes during remote sessions. If so, how might they manage this when working face to face?
  • considerations for ending face to face sessions slightly differ to ending remote sessions - the client physically leaving the session as opposed to the abrupt nature of ending a voice or video call

This list is not exhaustive and we would welcome any further suggestions.