The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the entire world. So much so that we now refer to the present as the ‘new normal’. We are all working to adapt the main parts of our lives to current safety conditions. So many of them are now restricted to the online world. Essentially, in 2020, we’ve moved our lives online. One of the many fields impacted by the digital migration is the mental health industry, which has made enormous progress to adapt.
The new normal for future counsellors
Those looking to start a career in counselling must now take up courses online, which brings both challenges and benefits. The major challenge is taking in all the information without being physically present in a university. However, studying online also brings some notable benefits. Students get to organise their time more efficiently and even have more time to spend on research.
Moreover, they can even pause and replay specific parts of lectures that they want to revisit. Aside from convenience, the digital model has also sparked creativity in both students and teachers. While students are more engaged, teachers are now even more invested in getting through to their students online.
Integrative therapist Abbey Robb has been seeing clients online for several years as the client’s she regularly works with have health conditions which limit their mobility. Abbey shares: ‘There’s a lot of positives that can come from seeing a therapist remotely – often a client feels less stressed or anxious when they are in their familiar space. This can be helpful, fostering an environment where they open up more freely. Of course, the reverse can also be true if the environment they are in is one where they feel they might be overheard or that their confidentiality is compromised.’
The new normal for professional counsellors
In 2020, counsellors and therapists have had to move all of their patients online, which has brought quite a few challenges. Some of them have encountered technological issues, with patients or even themselves unable to access the right type of technology required for a therapy session.
Even though the entire world has embraced Zoom and Skype overnight, most people have experienced issues when using them. In fact, some counsellors have even lost patients because the online experience has proven to be insufficient for them. Fortunately, the vast majority of patients were grateful to be able to continue their therapy, especially during these difficult times.
For most therapists, conducting online sessions was something absolutely normal. The major difference was switching to seeing all patients online and for an extended period. The difficulties brought on by this change were in reaching the patients and building a strong enough connection with them, which is essential for therapy. This meant that counselors have had to adapt their methods to fit the new format.
The new normal for clients
For clients who were already in therapy, the switch to online sessions was mostly challenging. While some of them were used to having meaningful discussions online, there were quite a few who have had to work to get used to the new normal because not actually being face-to-face with their therapists changed the session dynamically. However, after an adjustment period, most of them have successfully adapted to the online switch.
A number of the clients, though, have felt that online sessions are not a good fit for them and have decided to cease therapy until they can go back to their counsellors’ offices. For some of them, this actually happened, as the safety regulations changed after the first months of the pandemic, which permitted them to go back.
Unsurprisingly, though, most patients opted to continue their therapy sessions online, even when going to their counsellors’ offices became an option again. The reasons behind this decision were most likely the main topic of several therapy sessions because going back is a mutual risk that the therapist and patient must take together.
Abbey adds: ‘When seeing a therapist in an online space, a client should be made aware of any potential technical issues and there should be steps put in place to help them feel confident that their session will still be able to go ahead, regardless of the vagaries of technology. It’s important that a client feels as though you’ve thought things through and that you have a plan in place for them.
Some clients that I’ve worked with have found it useful to turn their self-view off in zoom, which helps them feel less self-conscious because they’re no longer looking at themselves and their reactions in the computer screen. I’ve had one or two clients who actually didn’t want to see me while we were talking; they were happiest being on webcam so I could see them, but positioned in such a way that they weren’t looking at a screen at all.
Going back to the therapist’s office with doubts should be avoided at all costs because it can have a very harmful effect on the development of the therapy. On one hand, if the patients believe that they are putting themselves in danger by coming in, they are likely to be unable to focus during the session and even develop feelings of resentment towards the therapist. The same goes for therapists who are unsure about going back to the office, so there should always be a very honest discussion to determine if both parties are ready to make this step.
‘I’ve found that the most important thing to worry about is making sure that the client is comfortable and feels confident. This can be achieved in a variety of ways, but a good therapist works with their client until they’ve found a set-up that works for them. I send out an email to new clients with some pointers of how to choose a quiet room and ensure that the family and other parts of life don’t intrude into their space. Because there’s no longer the processing time of travelling to and from the clinic, I advise my clients to take some time out for themselves at some point before our session and immediately afterwards, to have some processing space,’ Abbey concludes
As you can see, the new normal in counselling is still a work in progress, which has brought both challenges and benefits to patients, therapists, and counselling students. The bottom line remains perseverance. As long as people are willing to give their best to adapt to the new normal, there is plenty of space for them to grow here.
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