Many members are asking about offering their services voluntarily during this time of crisis. Deciding whether to volunteer and who to volunteer for will depend on your individual personal and professional circumstances. However, there are ethical considerations for both your safety and that of the people you volunteer to support.
If the service you're offering is considered to be counselling or using counselling skills, you'll still be working in accordance with the Ethical Framework.
Flexibility is key at present, so we may need to adapt the due diligence we’d usually apply to our work to suit the services being offered. But areas such as data protection, confidentiality and safeguarding should be agreed and adhered to as a minimum standard, for the protection of all involved.
We recommend you consider the following before taking on any referrals.
Confidentiality – data protection and safeguarding
What is the remit of the service being offered? Is it therapy as we would recognise it or is it more aligned with an emotional support service, such as the Samaritans, where you'll use counselling skills but will be unlikely to maintain an ongoing therapeutic relationship with the service user?
For either of these, you'll still want to consider what you would normally want in place before you see a service user or client in your practice. For example:
- have the people you're contacting made any agreement, even verbally, regarding confidentiality?
- how would you manage a situation that raised safeguarding concerns?
- boundaries - are service users aware of what’s on offer and any limitations to the service. For example do they know the number of sessions they will receive?
- what referral options can you suggest if service users need more in depth help?
- are service users aware of how their personal data is being handled?
- what does the agency recommend you do about record keeping and handling data?
- what support is does the agency provide for debriefing after sessions?
- are there any referral or signposting procedures to pass service users on if required?
As well as requiring the knowledge and skills to offer support competently online or over the phone, there's likely to be a degree of trauma related distress in the content of your sessions.
It’s important to consider whether you feel confident and competent to work with this, via a digital medium, with someone you may not have had the opportunity to develop a therapeutic relationship with, or that you're unlikely to have any further contact with.
You may find it helpful to discuss this with your supervisor and to check our resources.
As with your normal practice, it's vital you tell your supervisor about your volunteer work. You may want to confirm that they feel able to support this work and agree on how much supervision it requires.
Supervision also has an important restorative function and you might want to think about the support it can offer you, while you are offering support to others.
It's just as important to consider your own self-care. Are you emotionally and physically in a place where you can offer this service?
We're all experiencing drastic changes to our everyday lives which could easily deplete the reserves of resilience we're used to having and make us more vulnerable to conditions such as vicarious trauma.
Take a look at our self-care resources. You may find the following links useful:
- Looking after your helpline workers
- Exploring compassion fatigue and vicarious trauma in the helplines sector
- Helping the helpers
Guidance and resources for members
Tackling the mental health consequences of coronavirus
Back our COVID-19 campaign to reaffirm the critical role that counselling and psychotherapy needs to play in supporting the nation through the coronavirus crisis and in helping to repair it afterwards.
Our members can play critical role in supporting nation's mental health
Our response to IPPR study that Covid-19 is impacting health workers' mental health