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.

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