Meeting Lara Croft!
By Elizabeth Barclay, BACP Coaching Division Member
At the Birmingham BACP meeting on Tuesday 1 April it was both illuminating and informative to meet the ‘Lara Croft’ of online coaching and therapy (aka Dr Kate Anthony).
We were taken on our ‘initiation’ journey and I have to confess my own reservations at the outset. I am a hesitant ‘net’ user except for the basics and contacting my family and friends! Having worked in the NHS for many years and coming from a medical family, I am and always have been very concerned with confidentiality and boundaries.
Kate talked us through the cyber journey and it’s complexities (of which there are many) as well as the responsibilities involved for any practitioner engaged in working in the cyber world. Kate has been involved in working with BACP to develop specific guidelines for online working and she believes BACP are very forward thinking in their approach to the online world.
There was much discussion as the evening progressed and whilst many of the processes of the face to face world apply in the cyber world. For example: ethics, codes of practice, competency, contracting, boundaries, supervision, assessment, safety, containment, crisis intervention,security & endings.
There are areas that require more thought when the relationship isn’t face to face ie with two bodies inhabiting the same physical space in the room. The practitioner is required to have a good understanding, training and competency in the technology involved and all the mediums one might offer to work within.
There are many potential interface options: forums, blogs, chatrooms, apps, VoIP, video, email, text, instagrms, Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, holograms, virtual reality to name some. No doubt I have omitted some due to being a ‘technological immigrant’ or in simple words an older person who was not brought up with the technology!
Consideration would need to be given to preferences of working mediums and possibilities and difficulties this might create for oneself and clients.
An awareness of the permanence of the digital footprint of technology is required. This includes a foot print of one’s work in written, audio or verbal context, hence the importance of using safe and secure sites. I learnt that certain sites are unsecure and Kate considers them inappropriate for client material.
Skype for example, own the record of your data and retains the right to publish your data at any time if it chooses to do so. An alternative is VSEE.com which is reportedly much safer [Note from Kate: check out PlusGuidance for a full e-practice service!].
Implications for one’s own responsible networking, professional and personal digital footprint: Kate reports that prospective clients will ‘google’ us. Remember the 6 degrees of separation? Well according to Kate that is now only 4.7 in the light of social media! She makes the valid point that if you are out partying and a client can access this information then the client might interpret it as you are ‘not holding them in mind’. One does not know how one’s digital footprint will be accessed and interpreted so worth bearing in mind! To quote Kate “someone will know someone and someone might be identified.” And none of us would want to be identified if we were a client so the possibility of dual relationships needs to be addressed at the outset.
Practitioner websites need to be clear in what policies they are offering including the cyber methods of working, security, competency, formal assessment, supervision, client safety, crisis intervention and plan B if/when the technology might fail. What are the protocols?
Contracting is always important but with online working I think it would be even more important to discuss expectations of response times. Given the nature of the cyberworld is that it is instantaneous what are the implications for working practice?
Disinhibition Effect (Suler 2004, referred to by Kate): This is important to be aware of as behaviour can change when there is a ‘distance’ between the two parties and people can reveal much more in the cyber world. This can apply to the coach/therapist as well as the client. Despite this, Kate believes the positives outweigh the negatives.
Abuse / bullying is an ongoing problem encountered in the cyberworld and the impact is severe. Protection of oneself as a coach/therapist is an important consideration. Clients need to be aware of the process they are engaging in and Kate suggests time is spent in preparation/ discussion with the client before commencing any work. They need to be aware of the permanence of the digital footprint, safety and the best cyber medium for themselves.
There is much to reflect upon after the evening, including meeting our clients in the world they operate in, and accepting the possibilities that cyber working offers greater access to services for a greater number of people who might otherwise be trapped on a waiting list for face to face work.
So in summary, an entertaining evening but also practical and there is much support out there for those who wish to pursue this work or if they already do so. Kate offers training – PG certificate Cyberculture for Therapeutic Purposes, peer support, 1-1 tuition, 1-1 mentoring.
I will have missed some information being human and with my own selective processes but is the challenge as a coach/therapist to consider embracing the new whilst maintaining one’s integrity, professionalism and skills. Perhaps it is not an ‘either/or’ situation but a ‘both/and’ possibility?
So many thanks to Kate.