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Counseling therapists play a positive in the lives of people, helping them live happier, more rewarding lives. Technology has driven the rise of the online counselor in recent years. Moreover, with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, remote counseling therapy could be experiencing a surge in demand.
If you’re weighing up a career in counseling, offering your services on a remote basis offers numerous advantages. It could allow more people across geographic distances to access your services.
The possible leap in demand could enable you to build a successful business. So how do you become an online counselor and what are the things to keep in mind for a successful online therapy session?
Why counselors are more important than ever before
Also known as e-therapy, online counseling has grown in recent years. In the present time, the growth of online counseling could have additional driving factors:
- Social distancing and isolation: Social distancing and isolation due to COVID-19 will likely be with us until a vaccine or effective treatment is found. For those seeking counseling therapy, in-person sessions might be impractical. Online counseling offers a safe and convenient solution, especially when isolation is mandatory. Additionally, social isolation and mental impacts could raise the demand for remote counselors.
- Fear: Fear, anxiety, and stress levels could be on the rise due to coronavirus. In these times, access to counseling therapy could be critical. This applies to those with preexisting mental health issues as well as those who are experiencing negative impacts due to the pandemic.
- Illness: Those with preexisting conditions and illnesses have always benefited from seeking counseling therapy. During a pandemic, more people are likely to be sick. Those who do get the SARS-CoV-2 virus may need counseling support as they recover from it. Their loved ones could also benefit from having a counselor’s professional guidance.
How to become a counselor?
To become a counselor, start by completing a counseling diploma. Both basic and advanced diplomas can be completed in as little as one year.
- Initial diploma: An initial diploma offers a comprehensive introduction to counseling and psychology. You’ll likely learn all the core basics as well as practical counseling techniques.
- Advanced diplomas: Advanced diplomas and qualifications help you further develop your counseling skills and provide ongoing practitioner training.
You may wish to further advance your studies with degrees in psychology or counseling specialties. These may take one or two years to complete, and they can incorporate practical experience like supervised placements.
Once you start working in counseling, you could continue your professional development by joining a professional organization like the National Counselling Society (NCS), the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP), and the British Association for Counselling (BACP). These provide membership registration as well as accreditation in counseling-related areas.
Tips for being a counselor over video
Those living in remote locations, individuals with mobility issues, or people without adequate transportation encounter barriers when accessing counseling services. Video therapy helps these clients by enabling counselors to deliver therapeutic services through video conferencing. Many national organizations approve online therapy, for example, online speech therapy is approved by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), and has gained huge popularity since the outbreak of COVID-19.
However, for a successful telehealth counseling session, review the following practical considerations. In addition, refer to the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy’s Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions.
- Video call etiquette: Interruptions from family members or office colleagues can make a poor impression on clients. Use a quiet space where you won’t be interrupted. Turn off the TV and put your phone on silent. Log out of any programs that send notifications, including email clients. Make sure you’re suitably dressed and the background reflects your professional approach. Move away from windows and other sources of the backlight. Log in early so you can test and check the video and sound quality. It’s usually okay to sip coffee, tea, or water during a counseling session, but chewing gum and eating should be avoided. Maintain eye contact, stay attentive, and lean into the camera to show you’re engaged.
- Can you do it effectively: Although video counseling can be an excellent service for a wide range of clients, it might not be appropriate for certain situations. Patients with serious psychiatric conditions might not be suited to video counseling as their primary therapy service. Also, clients should have a quiet, safe place for calls along with adequate computer skills. Screen each client and situation to make sure you can conduct counseling therapy effectively. If not, you may wish to recommend in-person counseling for the individual.
- Reading body language: Non-verbal cues are easily missed with video calls. This can affect rapport, warmth, empathy, and engagement, which in turn negatively impacts therapy outcomes. You’ll need to make extra effort to ensure sessions are interactive. Pay extra close attention to the client’s nonverbal cues as well as their tone, voice, pace, and inflection. Proactively seek out feedback to compensate for the diminished access to body language.
- Stable internet connection: Both you and your clients should have a stable internet connection. This helps with a smooth, interruption-free, and effective counseling session.
- Choose a secure platform: Be aware of the risks relating to privacy and confidentiality when using technology. Keep the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and other relevant regulations in mind. You’ll want to choose a secure platform with encryption to protect client data and information from unintended access and disclosure. The Human Givens Institute considers WebEx, FaceTime, and Zoom to be secure platforms. Have safeguards in place for any data you store on-site, and securely dispose of any data when the time comes to delete it.
In a telehealth world, remote counselors could have increased demand for their services. In addition to getting a formal qualification like a counseling diploma, counselors can build their skill sets by learning about enabling technologies. These include hardware, video conferencing software, and apps.
It’s also imperative for remote counselors to familiarise themselves with any legal and ethical obligations that apply to video counseling in their region. For example, client privacy and confidentiality obligations can attract different risk and compliance issues when you’re relying on the internet and technology to deliver services.