Day In The Life Of … An Online Counsellor
Written by Emma Person for The Guardian
I get up at 7.30am but my working day doesn’t start until around midday so I use the mornings to get organised and give myself a little head space – doing yoga several times a week is really grounding.
As an online counsellor I work from home, apart from when I have meetings, so there’s no dead travel time in my day.
I tend to grab lunch, or more accurately brunch, before logging on for work.
The first thing I do when I log on to the intranet is run through my emails and pick up on any admin and messages from the team.
Working purely online, it’s crucial to have that point of contact with the rest of the team to avoid feeling isolated.
Luckily there’s always someone at the other end of the phone, or online, that I can contact.
We have regular meetings and supervision and I feel like part of a strong group.
Having sorted my admin, I log onto the website ready for one-to-one messaging sessions with young people. I have pre-booked clients, as well as people dropping in for a session when they need it.
I have practiced as a counsellor for 16 years, with a background in working with clients living with or exposed to substance misuse.
When I was racking up my voluntary hours I worked in alcohol services, with both adults and young people, but it was young people who really struck a chord with me.
I gravitated towards working with under-25s, as I related well to their issues.I feel I’ve really found my niche working online.
Although there’s lots to be valued about face-to-face counselling, online therapy can be even more rewarding.
I can reach out to young people who may feel they can’t access counselling in person – youngsters who might otherwise slip through the net.
Online therapy gives them the chance to access help without feeling intimidated by a face-to-face scenario, reaching out entirely anonymously so barriers are quickly broken down and there’s no feeling of being judged.
A counsellor’s duty of care incorporates rigorous safeguarding policies surrounding anonymity and when I start work with a young person I tell them about confidentiality and how the service and I work.
As with any therapy, online counselling can present challenges.
When you’re counselling face-to-face you can read visual signals and assess voice tone, whereas online you start a session with a blank screen so it’s hard to know what’s going to unfold.
I’m constantly assessing the client’s needs and have to concentrate hard on every written message, re-reading for nuances and emotion.
In any one afternoon I can see a huge range of issues.
Young people log on about anything from bullying and friendships, to parental breakdown or problems within the family.
They may be suffering psychotic episodes and even be contemplating self-harm or have suicidal tendencies.
I very often have several sessions with each person, sometimes over numerous weeks.
What happens after their experience with online counselling depends on them as an individual and their issues.
It is not uncommon for them to need ongoing support from either Kooth or – as we’re commissioned regionally and linked in with on-the-ground services – a combination of online counselling in tandem with face-to-face counselling and other local services, who we work in tandem with.
The services offered by Kooth, either as a standalone service or as a stepping stone, can be invaluable for young people in need of support.
I feel very proud to be a part of it.
Working so intensely means my shifts are fairly short.
I spend three or four hours at a time interacting with clients, although on an evening shift I tend to finish quite late, around 10pm.
As a single mum, though, I love the flexibility – late shifts mean I can be around to pick my daughter up from school and spend time with her.
It can be hard to switch off after an intense shift, so even if I’m exhausted my mind’s still alert. It’s important to wind down properly so I’ll do something like take a soak in the bath or read.
If I’m really struggling to relax I’ll call on some of the meditative deep breathing techniques I often suggest to my clients.
Emma Pearson is an online counsellor for Kooth which offers online and face-to-face counselling for young people aged 11-25 years. Young people can self-refer or they can be put in touch with by their school, GP or other service practitioners.