Therapists: Safeguard Your Private Practice During the Coronavirus Outbreak

The situation we currently find ourselves in has clearly caused a degree of confusion and uncertainty among small business owners in the UK. As a therapist that relies on face-to-face sessions, self-isolation of yourself or your clients (or even a government-imposed lockdown) might feel like a storm you don’t feel adequately prepared to weather.

Covid-19 has brought with it increased levels of anxiety around family, personal health and finances as the nation tries to navigate these troubling times. People are now consuming news – sometimes from sources that spread fear and misinformation – more quickly than the virus can spread so looking after our mental health is as important now as ever. 

I’ve put together some clear steps and safeguards you can take in your private practice to keep you, your clients, and your business healthy. 

Online Counselling Sessions

Online counselling can come in the form of video or written communication (e.g. video, text, telephone, messenger, email etc.). The explosive growth of online counselling services has continued since 2015 when 90% of psychotherapists were already providing online services for clients.

Emma Aram of Tadworth Therapy is an experienced online counsellor. She advises to invest in some online counselling training:

“I suppose the biggest thing is to get some training. You know how to counsel, you are a counsellor, but it’s not quite the same, you need to be comfortable. Also, ensure you are using an encrypted system like Zoom. Not all web systems are encrypted end to end.”

Because it might not be possible to find suitable training at short notice at a time like this, the BACP recommend taking the following actions to help you gain the necessary skills and basic knowledge: 

  • complete a self-audit of the competency framework to highlight the areas on which need additional knowledge and check out their resources related to the areas you identified
  • speak with colleagues and other therapists in your network who may be able to share knowledge, expertise and recommendations for books or online CPD
  • reflect on the implications of online working, and check with your supervisor that they are happy to supervise your online practice
  • practice an online session with a fellow therapist so you can get used to the technology and they can provide you with feedback
  • be open with clients that you’re not fully trained in working in this way and be open to client feedback

In this Behind the Scenes video, Kate Dunn and Carole Francis-Smith discuss working therapeutically from a distance in real-time or synchronously.

Communicate Securely with Clients Online

ACTO (The Association for Counselling and Therapy Online) recommends that you don’t use Skype to provide online counselling as they deem it to be insecure. They recommend using a platform that is HIPAA compliant instead. It’s worth noting, however, that Skype does offer encrypted video so plenty of therapists use it in the UK where software must comply with GDPR. You can see Microsoft’s GDPR and Privacy Policy here.

Zoom.us is a HIPAA compliant cloud-based video conferencing service that allows you to communicate (for FREE) via video, audio or both. 

Dr. Rosie Gilderthorp of Dr. Rosie and Mind, Body and Baby created this really useful video for her clients explaining how Zoom works for online counselling. This is an excellent example of how you can communicate your new working arrangements with your clients. 

How to use Zoom

Not only that, but she also runs a group over on Facebook called Do More Than Therapy where she regularly talks about online counselling tips and advice. 

Like Zoom, Doxy.me is also free (video and live chat) and is a popular healthcare-focused provider for video conferencing. They even offer a ‘waiting room’ so busy therapists can see when their next client has checked in. 

Health and Safety Information for Therapists

As of writing this article (March 18th), therapy hasn’t been officially classified as essential or non-essential contact. As such, many therapists will be left to make their own ethical decision as to whether to continue offering in-person appointments or not. The BACP would like to see more clarity from the Government or Department of health, and I recommend you visit their website regularly for therapy-specific guidance. 

The current guidance from the government is for all businesses to:

  • help reduce the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) by reminding everyone of the public health advice. Posters, leaflets and other materials are available.
  • reminded to wash their hands for 20 seconds more frequently than normal.
  • Frequently clean and disinfect objects and surfaces that are touched regularly, using your standard cleaning products.

Julie Kuhn MBACP of Counselling For You Cornwall reminds us that face to face therapists can still be sensitive to triggers:

“One thing to bear in mind is that each person is unique and individual and will be dealing with this situation in their own personal way so when in the counselling room (whether it is physical or online) it is remembering that nothing has changed in the theory.  

One thing that comes to mind for me is that perhaps rather than standing a bottle of sanitiser on the table (because the appearance of sanitiser may be triggering for the client) you might gently introduce that you have sanitiser should the client require it.”

Business Continuity, Planning for Change and the Legal Stuff

The idea of having to change your way of working can be daunting, and the admin and legal consideration side of things can be hard work at the best of times. I scoured the internet to find resources, tools and information that I know would be useful and would enable you to start actioning things straight away. 

The last thing I want to share with you right now is a fantastic free resource from Private Practice Paperwork. They have put together a bundle of useful templates to help you communicate any changes as a result of Covid-19 with your clients. 

The bundle includes:

1. a customisable template for a letter to clients regarding updated policies

2. group practice/landlord’s letter for shared clinics

3. A letter advising clients that you will be working online and via telephone

4. Several email wordings for various eventualities including advising clients and colleagues of self-isolation

What’s more, their lawyers have reviewed and assessed these wordings with respect to privacy obligations on 13.03.2020.

Do you have advice you can share with other therapists who need to transition towards remote working? Please share any tips and words of encouragement in the comments section.

If you need any help getting prepared for working remotely, please get in touch.

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