Don’t Panic - Plan
I wonder how your second week of online practice has been? NCS Registrant Suzie Mosson, a director of Online Training for Counsellors, has some expert advice for practitioners making this move. Whethe...
There is an estimated 6.8 million people working alone in the UK. Internationally, this figure is much higher and is expected to rise as the continued change in working habits forces more remote working (ref: www.Lonealert.co.uk.)
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines a lone worker as “those who work by themselves without close or direct supervision”, which encompasses millions of workers in a range of roles from a full spectrum of industries.
It is a common myth to think that the term ‘lone worker’ simply refers to people who work completely alone. Although thousands of people do indeed fall into this category, the term ‘lone worker’ actually refers to a much broader spectrum of people - including anyone who works remotely, in isolation, with vulnerable people or, indeed, who can feel vulnerable themselves due to the type of work they carry out.
As therapists, the type of work we carry out invariably falls into the category of ‘lone working’. There are many references on line that offer guidance of how to recognise and work to minimise risk. However, we have collated some salient points and ‘top tips’ for consideration to help keep you safe in your work:
Working in your own home or in client’s home
Let someone know who you are meeting, when and where
Try not to advertise to prospective clients that you work from home
Check out any prospective clients before they arrive. Always get their telephone number and call back prior to the appointment to confirm – and check they are who they say they are
If you work alone – consider setting up a ‘buddy system’. (Further information/advice can be found on the Suzy Lamplugh Trust website -Suzy Lamplugh Trust
Keep your therapy room as professional as possible – avoid displaying personal items such as photos, or valuables.
Give the impression that other people are in the building e.g. let client overhear you telling a family member in another room that ‘your client is here now so you must not be disturbed’.
If meeting a client in their home – check in with your ‘buddy’ before and after the meeting.
If visiting a client in their own home for the first time – be aware of the exits and if you do not feel comfortable/safe make an excuse and leave
Don't take risks - don't go to a house when a client is in crisis and talking about hurting someone. Call the police and offer your services once the situation has been diffused.
Working privately in rooms in a multi-purpose building - or in shared accommodation in a multi-purpose building (agency, charity).
Know where the exits & entrances are located in relation to your room
Avoid rooms at the end of corridors where there is no alternative exit
Be aware of any ‘in-house’ procedures such as signing in /out
Make sure you understand and know how to access any security measures that are in place
Extra vigilance is needed if there is casual access from the street
Avoid being alone in a building, or at a distance from other people e.g. alone on a different floor
Meeting a client for the first time
What methods are in place to screen a new client before your first meeting? (You might speak to them on the phone or be given information from their GP or other referring agency).
Be aware that due to changes in the NHS, as a private counsellor you may now be meeting clients with more complex issues.
Only work within your scope of practice and experience – make sure that you have access to relevant agencies (such as local mental health team) so you can refer a client on if need be.
Be aware if a client has a history of violence. If there is anything within the client's history that causes you concern, then ensure that you have both the experience and the support you need to work with the client.
Clients who have a history of impulse control problems, such as explosive rage, are more likely than other clients to lose control with a counsellor.
To ensure clear boundaries between your own life and your counselling practice it is ideal to have a separate telephone number for clients to use rather than giving out your home/personal number.
Be aware of privacy and boundaries around social media (it is obviously not appropriate to be ‘friends’ on Facebook etc).
Be honest with yourself - if you have any doubts about working with a particular client talk to your Supervisor
If a client is expressing a lot of anger or emotional upset – are you able to ‘hold’ them safely? Giving some thought to such matters before they happen will help prepare you to act in the best interests of both your client and yourself.
If there is an emergency – what will you do? Having a practised procedure in place will help you to react more calmly. For example, having 999 on speed dial on your phone. Hopefully you will never need this but better to have in place in advance rather than having no idea what to do in an emergency.
Keep relevant notes / records (be aware of data protection)
If you work with children, young people and/or vulnerable adults you should have a DBS check in place.
Whenever you are working in a new environment – take the time to explore the premises and the area before you meet with your client. Do your own risk assessment – where are the exits, what do you need to do to ensure the safety of yourself and your client.
Position your chair closest to the door so you have a clear path should you need to leave the room quickly.
If you work or volunteer for an agency /organisation – find out what their safety guidelines are.
If you work alone, try and set up a ‘buddy system’
It is your responsibility to keep professional boundaries in place at all times for the protection of both yourself and your clients.
Monitor what's going on outside of the counselling session. If you learn that a client is using poor judgement, having outbursts or breaking things at home or in the workplace, that may indicate that they may ‘act out’ in the session.
Never chase after a client who storms out of a session.
Dealing with Violence and Aggression
No-one can say with any certainty what they would do if faced with a potentially violent situation. Many factors can affect the way you behave; from your own confidence and experience to how you are feeling on the day. There are no ‘right’ answers but it helps to think things through in advance.
REMEMBER that the earlier you spot a potential problem arising, the easier it will be to avoid it.
It is very rare for aggression or violence to come from nowhere. So be aware of changes in the behaviour of the person you are with, especially if they seem to be getting irritated or angry.
Try to use your own communications skills to defuse a difficult situation early on. Think about what you say and how you say it and be aware of your body language.
Try to remain calm and do not be drawn into their anger
Try to distance yourself both physically and emotionally
Be assertive but avoid meeting aggression with aggression
Use exit strategies – have a pre-planned way to excuse yourself from a situation if it looks like becoming aggressive.
Trust your instincts – Never underestimate a threat: if you feel uneasy or alarm bells start ringing, ACT immediately to get out of the situation
Members of National Counselling Society (NCS) can find this information in the following area of the members section: https://www.nationalcounsellingsociety.org/members/information/documents/fact-sheets/.
To find out more about lone working guidance:
Working alone: Health and safety guidance http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg73.htm.
Advice on personal security when working alone is also available from the Suzy Lamplugh Trust https://www.suzylamplugh.org.