13 May

Counselling under lockdown

Reflections from a WLAC counsellor (client details changed)

At the end of February, our CEO Heather was following the Covid-19 information assiduously. We had hand sanitisers fixed to the walls and we cleaned door handles twice a day.

I then took a week’s leave (social distance skiing in Northern Italy), came back with coronavirus (I’m sure I caught it before I left, so my trip saved the entire office from getting it!), and EVERYTHING had changed.

Suddenly we were all working from home, a week before official lockdown began.  Each week we usually have maybe sixty people coming into our small offices and sitting for intensive one-hour sessions in small counselling rooms – it simply wasn’t going to work.

Although we had had hypothetical discussions about working from home, it did come upon us very suddenly. On Friday 13th March, everyone packed up and left the office for the foreseeable future.

We discovered that we are very adaptable – and so are our clients. Within a week, we all had our own work mobile phones and had contacted all our clients and arranged phone sessions with everyone who wanted to continue counselling.   And then of course there was Zoom. So easy to set up. We had a team meeting within a day of working from home and we could thrash out various issues – like what to do about people we hadn’t met who were waiting for counselling and about future referrals.

So how is counselling from home working for clients?

Clients say, “It’s nice to hear your voice”. For many of them, I have been a stable presence in their lives for some time and I am pleased to be able to continue to be there for them. I have just spoken to a mother at home with her two young boys and I asked her how she found the phone sessions, and she said, “It’s just the same”.

Martha is one of the many parents I speak to who is benefitting from the time at home with their children. We often agree to forego a session because she is making ice cream with her boys or baking a cake. When she first came to West London Action for Children before Christmas, she was tearing her hair out trying to cope with her children’s behaviour.  Martha attended our parenting group and then some counselling with me, and then Lockdown came along. She just told me that it has given her “the perfect opportunity to get to know my children”. In today’s phone session, she didn’t mention her children’s bad behaviour once. Instead she spoke of her feelings of love and protectiveness towards them.

Another mother and I have regular phone sessions that she says have changed her family life.  This woman, Jane, had a chaotic childhood with little calm parenting and she is open about wanting to parent with less anger, less shouting and less swearing.  She said she was finding bedtimes very trying, with her children refusing to stay in bed.

I suggested she spend time with her children as they settle, which she had never done before.  Now she sits with them and listens to them chatter and tell stories, then she leaves, and they go to sleep. I also helped her write a timetable out for the day, and we worked out a simple technique for reducing her shouting – she has to put a red sticker on her calendar each time she shouts and the reason for it. This has reduced her angry outbursts dramatically.

Jane feels proud of her achievements and sounds happy as she tells me how her children’s behaviour is improving as they enjoy the arts and crafts time, the cycle rides together, and the chance to chat to her as they drift off to sleep.

Some clients have opened up as much if not more than in a face-to-face counselling session. They often say, as they do in the office, that they feel relieved at the end of a session to have spoken about their deep emotions and inner conflicts.

But the lack of physical presence of my clients is hard for me – I’ve realized how much positive energy I get from being with them.  I think many homeworkers, including us therapists, are finding work more draining without the warmth and pleasure that human company brings.

Zoom does come to the rescue again. I have had zoom sessions with new clients which have really surprised me. I have met some young teenagers for the first time on zoom and seeing their faces and expressions and some time for humour enhances the work no end. Emotions can be conveyed via video as I’ve discovered: I feel moved by the emotions people convey. Clearly something transpersonal comes through video.  As one client said, “I can’t believe I’m crying at an Ipad”.

A big loss with homeworking is not being with my colleagues. I miss the banter and the shift in mood of a light-hearted conversation after an emotional session. I miss the faces, smiles, the laughter and the warmth of my work family. 

But needs must and we will be back soon!