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Advice for clients working online

Coach Julieanne Steel by Julieanne Steel
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A guide for people starting to see their coach/counsellor online.

COVID-19 has changed our lives. One of the many things it’s changed is how we attend our counselling sessions. Weekly trips to our counsellor’s consulting room, have been replaced (for the time being) with video calls or voice calls, text, email or instant messages.

This can feel anything from a little bit odd, to quite scary; and it might be difficult at first, to think of it differently from the meetings and connections we have with friends, family and colleagues online.

If you’ve had counselling in-person before, you may be wondering will the new way feel the same? Will the relationship be different? How will I manage this new way of connecting? Here are some helpful things to consider.

In terms of your relationship with your counsellor, yes it will be different. They won’t be within arms-reach, able to pass you a box of tissues when the tears arise. However, they will still be there for you, listening to your every word. And they will still be holding you in mind, in the exact same way that they did before.

Here are some tips for getting the most out of your online counselling:

Before your meeting:

• Write down any concerns or questions you have about connecting this way: e.g. what will we do if the internet doesn’t work? when you see your therapist, you can ask them.

• Tell your therapist if you think you will have any privacy issues during your meetings: To ensure confidentiality counsellors ask clients to be in a quiet place where no-one will interrupt. COVID-19 and lock-downs, mean a lot of people do not have the luxury of a quiet, private space. If this is your situation let your counsellor know and they can offer to communicate with you over instant messenger during the 50 minutes of your session, rather than voice or video. This way you will know that no-one else will hear what you are talking about.

• Decide on the place you will see your counsellor: maybe you can find a cosy, warm part of your environment, perhaps a different place from where you work if working from home; try to see them from this space each time you meet. It can start to serve as a safe place. Don’t worry if this is not an option for you. Wherever you meet will be ok.

• Set your laptop or phone up: e.g. for video calls, you can put your laptop, or other device on a stack of books so it’s high enough for the camera to be in line with your eyes. You can work out the best position in the session.

Just before the meeting:

• Get into your comfortable clothes, get a drink and a pen and paper. This way you can take notes if something comes up that you wish to remember.

• Stop doing anything not related to counselling 5 minutes before your session: Take these 5 minutes before the counselling session starts, to breathe a little more calmly, stretch or do anything that helps you leave behind your to-do list and helps you get into your best mindset for your session. Online counselling cuts out travel time, and this can be a blessing, but also means you don’t have the natural shift in your mind between day-to-day tasks, and counselling.

During the session:

• Take it slowly: meeting our counsellor online can make us feel less inhibited. We can be quicker to share intimate information than we would be offline. To ensure that you share at a pace that feels comfortable to you, take the session slowly, breathe calmly and don’t be afraid to pause or allow silences to arise.

• If you are speaking to your counsellor over video link and you feel distracted by being able to see your own face on the screen you can hide this. You can ask your therapist how to do this.

• If something happens such as the call goes quiet, or the video freezes, it’s ok. It will pass, or you will be able to switch to the plan you agreed with your counsellor at the beginning. You may want to focus on your breathing or something else that helps you feel grounded.

After the session:

• Try and take a quiet 5 minutes for yourself before you do anything else: it can be tempting to check social media, or immediately switch back to other tasks. 5 quiet minutes to yourself now can really help to let the counselling session sink in.

• Carry on with your day.

Online counselling will feel different to meeting your therapist in their consulting room. That is ok. If you’re worried about it, that’s ok, and it is ok to speak to your therapist about this too.

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