Just as my client was telling me something important I lost the Skype connection. Bam. The screen went black. It took a few precious minutes to get back online and back in touch with the client. The client seemed to be okay with it and picked up the story where she had left off. Me? Well, it took me a moment longer to take off my ‘technical problem-solving hat’ and put my ‘counsellor’ hat back on.
When you are using videoconferencing these moments happen. The technology fails. It’s one thing to have this happen in a conversation with a friend. It’s another thing altogether when it happens with a client in a moment of vulnerable sharing.
How about this scenario – a client Skypes with you and as part of that Skype session you have sent each other written messages. The client shares a computer and Skype address with her spouse and she hasn’t told her spouse she is having counselling. While Skype calls are themselves encrypted the history of calls, contacts and messaging history stays on the computer.
So what can we as ethically responsible counsellors do?
First, I think we need to be competent users of the technology. We need to understand how it works in order to maximize therapeutic effectiveness, how to resolve issues and know when to switch to an alternate method of delivery. We need to know the potential risks of using this technology and we need to know how to appropriately minimize those risks.
Then, we orient our clients to using this modality and discuss with them ahead of time the possibility of technology failure, methods of alternative communication in case that happens and the potential emotional impact of having a technical failure at a critical juncture.
We also talk to our clients about privacy – both on our end and theirs. How secure is the system we are using? Encrypted in transmission? What about wearing a headset so others can’t hear the session? Closing the door so others don’t interrupt? What reasonable safeguards can we put in place to preserve confidentiality? What steps can the client take? Do they understand the consequences of not taking these steps?
Once you have addressed the technical and ethical considerations you may find it to be a valuable addition to your counselling practice. In my next blog post I will be talking about some of the research on the efficacy of videocounselling.
Dawn Schell, MA, CCC is an affiliate with Worldwide Therapy Online Inc.
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA