Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Accessibility and Flexibility: The Work of Reach Psychology Counselling

Online Counselling offers the opportunity to reach out to individuals who might find it too difficult to step into a clinic room or office. Therapy Market Counselling psychologist Ruth Hare has developed a friendly and accessible online service that provides the flexibility people require. Here she shares some of the principles behind her online and email counselling packages.

Ruth, you’ve indicated that you want to make counselling stigma free for people. How do you encourage clients who are reluctant to share their experiences or those who are experiencing shame around what has been happening in their lives?

Whilst ensuring a professional service, I’m fairly relaxed and promote myself as the friendly face of psychology – as much as I’m reluctant to have my photograph taken, my website is full of pictures of me so people can get their own sense of who I am.   Regardless of whether it’s face-to-face or online, the first contact with me is free which removes the pressure and I encourage clients to check me out and decide if I’m right for them.

I also tend to put myself in places clients will have no issue walking into – one of my ‘clinics’ is in a private meeting room within a local library for example.  I find people are more at ease if they can browse the shelves whilst waiting rather than sitting in a clinical environment.

It’s always been said that I have the knack for putting people at ease and that, with some empathic reflections early on which draw on resilience and survival, clients tend to open up and quickly learn that nothing is taboo with me. 

Counselling Psychology in the Education Sector

You also work as a consultant in the education sector. In what ways has your background in working as a psychologist with educators and parents contributed to your skills in counselling psychology?

There is huge interplay between the two.  Traditionally, psychologists have been tasked to ‘fix’ children and young people by only working with the pupil.  Utilising systemic thinking and exploring factors which maintain issues (such as parental issues or staff-pupil dynamics) has drawn significantly on my counselling psychology skills.  When seeing individuals for therapeutic work, I’m now all the more mindful of the impact of external issues and hypothesise about this in my formulations routinely.  Offering educators the opportunity of training, supervision, consultation and reflection empowers them to support troubled young people themselves.

Can you say a bit about your experience with teacher stress and your interest in the well-being of teachers? What draws you to this practice area?

I am struck by the enormity of the pressures teachers face today and the breath of their role.  The referrals I receive for young people in mainstream schools are complex, challenging and the issues are often already significant and embedded even by their early teens.  Teachers and support staff have very little training on the emotional demands of their job, and there is no culture of supervision within education like there is in healthcare, counselling or psychology.  I have found that by supporting staff to reflect and understand their own drives, needs and challenges it’s led them to develop deeper empathy and a greater capacity to think about the young people they are teaching.

(Find out more about stress and burnout in professional life at Therapy Market)

The Benefits of Email Counselling

Why did you decide to start offering your services online? What do you see as the benefit of online practice and email counselling?

Online practice sits well within the ethos of Reach Psychology  – it’s the ultimate in accessible counselling and removes all the barriers which location, clinic or the issue itself could generate.  I’m interested in combining the areas I’ve already mentioned – promoting the service to those in the education sector particularly – a place where staff can discuss pupil issues but also safely acknowledge their own work or home stressors.

You have developed a novel range of packages for email counselling – Reach 1, Reach 6 and Reach more - as well as the ‘This is Awkward’ consultation service. Do you find that online clients prefer the clarity of knowing in advance the service inclusion they will receive?

I am of course flexible in how long clients wish to work with me but I find that on a practical level it’s easier for clients to budget this way, and it’s helpful for me to anticipate capacity this way too.  I think it’s especially important for both parties to have a basic expectation of how much correspondence there is going to be, especially in email exchanges – I would respond differently if I was only expecting to reply once to someone than I would if I know we’ve got six opportunities to explore themes.

Would you mind giving some examples of the kinds of ‘awkward’ situations your email clients might raise with you?

I feel passionate about the Mind and Rethink ‘Time To Change’ concept – the idea that there should be greater discussions about emotional wellbeing and mental health.  However, in my experience what stops people is not their concern or stigma per se, but usually not knowing how to start the conversation or what to say back when the going gets tough.  The situations people typically talk to me about usually start with them saying “My friend…” , “My husband…” , “My daughter…” and they then describe a behaviour they are worried about: “drinks too much”, “works too late”, “doesn’t eat properly”, “becomes incredibly rude”, “hasn’t been themselves for weeks” , “seems depressed”.  I invite them to think more about the situation with me and support them to begin, and sometimes to sustain, a meaningful conversation with someone they care about.

Do you only provide email consultations or are you available for webcam sessions as well?

I enjoy using email primarily as well as live text chat using Skype instant messenger.  I occasionally use webcam but find it limits us to specific times where as email and live chat epitomises the flexibility of the approach.

If you were to give one piece of advice to another counsellor or therapist just starting out working online, what would it be?

I’d remind people that some of the benefits of this way of working also generate things you need to be mindful of and explore in supervision.  Once clients have opened up, I find the pace is often much quicker than face to face.  Inferring tone is also a challenge for both sides but with a transparent, open and approach with suggests interest, care and a motivation to understand, this is more than manageable.

Find out more about Ruth Hare at Therapy Market.

If you are interested in being featured as a practitioner, take a look at the why to sign up for professionals at Therapy Market.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

6 Tips for Starting your Online Therapy or Coaching Practice

Woman looking at computer screen
Starting out as an online coach or therapist? Here are 6 of the best tips about how to get your practice up and running quickly and efficiently!

#1. You are your product, so show who you are

When you are building your practice and developing your website, keep in mind that your prospective clients will want to research you before they book a session. They need to see you both as a professional and a human being, so forget those animated videos and robotic voices. Attracting clients is about trust and you can't build trust through complete anonymity. This doesn't mean you have to divulge all your personal secrets online, it just means that your website and Internet presence should reflect who you are, what you do and why you do it. Including at least one photograph of yourself is a good idea as is sharing your background and membership of professional associations. Don't be afraid to be yourself.


#2. Download Skype (or another Voice over Internet programme)

There are a few different software programmes you can use for webcam and voice over Internet, but Skype is the most well-known. Skype is free to use computer to computer and free to download. And you can even choose to purchase a Skype online number to keep your office mobile or a premium account that will give you access to group video (great for working with couples). Once you have installed Skype, practise using it with family or friends. Being comfortable with a webcam and creating a good impression is just as important online as it is if you were meeting clients face to face. Since its takeover by Microsoft, Skype is upgraded regularly. So once you have installed Skype, make sure you have the latest software upgrade.


#3. Set up a Paypal account (or another online payment service)

You want to get paid don't you? Paypal is one of the most well-known and trusted of all the payment systems. It's really easy to set up and start using it almost immediately. Of course you could choose to have payments made directly to your bank account, but using an online payment system is another way to develop trust with your clients because they know they can make a complaint if things go wrong. These e-commerce solutions do take a small fee, but it is comparable to what the credit card companies charge and worth paying for the extra business you will receive.


#4. Create your social media presence especially Twitter and Facebook

If you are counselling or coaching online you need to have a presence as a counsellor or coach online as well. A Twitter account and Facebook page are great starting points and a must-have for any online therapist or Internet coach who is serious about social marketing. Therapy Market regularly re-tweets our members tweets so we can help raise your profile too. Instagram and Pinterest are visual social platforms that are also becoming more popular. And if you are willing to show even more of yourself and feel comfortable being in video, you can't beat Youtube. It will really give prospective clients an idea of who you are!


#5. Join Therapy Market and be seen in the best UK advertising for therapists, coaches and counsellors

Therapy Market specialises in promoting online practitioners. If you want to boost your profile online through a counselling or coaching directory, Therapy Market should be your number 1 choice. A one-off annual payment secures a place in the advertising directory that you can modify and add to whenever you like. It's good value and will ensure you are seen among the most eminent of the UK coaching and counselling professionals. Look after yourself as a therapist with a listing that will help you attract more clients.


#6. Write about your coaching or therapeutic practice online

Most clients who want to see you online will find you online, not in printed ads. The future is virtual, so the more content about yourself and your counselling and coaching practice that can be found online, the better. Keep in mind that it should be quality content and specific to your niche as a therapist or coach. Avoid trying to be everything to everyone, you are swimming in a very big sea now. Focus on what you do best and how you stand out from other counselling and coaching professionals due to the Long Tail Effect. Having a blog and regularly posting updates is one of the best ways you can market yourself and much cheaper than google ads or paying someone in India to do your SEO for you.