• Mary Watkins

Online, telephone or face to face counselling?

Updated: May 12

In 2020 during the first wave of the pandemic I was in the last few months of four years of study and looking forward to finishing my Counselling Diploma and qualifying. Then the unbelievable happened; overnight we were not allowed to leave our homes and me and many others in education wondered how on earth we were going to complete our courses.


How was I going to accumulate the last 50 hours of client work required to become a counsellor?

How was I going to complete the remaining study sessions by the end of May?

Although I knew I could delay for another year, the thought filled me with disappointment and desperation.


It soon became apparent this wasn't going to be a short term situation and contingency plans were soon put in to action. Weekly lessons would be online, but there was still no plan for client work to resume in any form. I remember feeling very worried until our examining board gave the go to counsel clients via online video link.

This didn't really sit that well with me, however, I was prepared to give it a try. I did some brief training on how to set up a video link eg. Zoom/Teams and away I went.


Very few of my original clients wanted to be counselled in this way, a few wanted telephone counselling but most wanted to wait until face to face counselling started again (little did we know that wasn't going to be until a long time later). Eventually we started to come to terms that online or telephone counselling was going to be the options whether we liked it or not.


I remember the feeling of apprehension when I counselled my first client online. Waiting patiently whilst they tried to connect 'can you hear me? can you see me?' Both of us pressing different buttons and making things disappear or muting ourselves by accident, such good fun!

Eventually things became smoother and we started to get the hang of it, and I think the sessions worked quite well, except for the slight lag in speech which meant we talked over each other 'sorry you go first' , ' no it's ok, after you.' We were so polite.


I did counsel a few clients by telephone, but this wasn't my 'cup of tea' I found it difficult not knowing what they looked like or seeing their facial expressions. I was also highly aware that on the telephone we can lose our inhibitions and disclose more than we intended. I could also never be sure that the client was alone and not being overheard, and felt confidentiality could have been compromised; not to mention some clients dash for the front door when parcels were being delivered and my own dog barking in the background when deliveries were being made to my home.

I managed to complete my client hours online and later that year enrolled on a level 5 Diploma in Counselling for Trauma with the agency http://www.newpathways.org.uk/

( a specialist counselling and advocacy services for women, men, children and young people who have been affected by rape or sexual abuse) which was also completed entirely online. I enjoyed doing this from the comfort of my own home, not having to go out on cold rainy days, but I did miss the human contact of my fellow students. However, we got to know each other well online and met up when Covid19 restrictions were lifted.


Eventually, last year I started my own private counselling practice and offered face to face counselling. I remember feeling quite apprehensive about seeing clients in the flesh after so long, but after my first session I could feel myself easing back in to 'the zone.' For me it's important that I see my clients subtle movements which may indicate distress, something which is more difficult on line. I also find the screen a barrier between me and my client and anyone else I'm talking to online. However, I appreciate that some clients may find it easier to open up in the safety of their own home and it may be better for those who don't want anyone else to know they are having counselling. Clients with mobility issues may find it more convenient, although at my own counselling room https://www.blackwoodwellbeingcentre.com/ is ground level access.


Clients who are afraid to leave the house can also benefit from online counselling and it can be the first step to recovering by having some sessions online, gradually leaving their home for face to face sessions as a form of exposure for their fears.

As my colleague Kathy at https://www.blackwoodwellbeingcentre.com/ says 'there's something about having to get up, get showered and dressed and out to face the world that does me a power of good.' I have to agree; on my down days (yes counsellors have them too) having my routine of going out is hugely beneficial to my sense of wellbeing.


Summing up, I feel there is a place for both online and face to face counselling. We will all have our preference as 'one size' definitely does NOT fit all in therapy or any other area of life.


If you feel you would like online or face to face therapy I am happy to provide either or a mix of the two.


Make that first step.... or maybe it's a leap and contact me on 07415 014690 I may not be able to answer straight away, but if you leave a message I'll get back to you as soon as I'm free.


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