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Unfortunately, I could not make the time to travel to Manchester but, as delegates can attend OCTIA online, I chose to do just that …. And felt that I got my online fee’s worth.

On the OCTIA website the day promised …

“The 2019 conference theme is focused towards those online counsellors, therapists and health care professionals who are engaging with their clients and service users using the full range of online platforms and media. There'll be the opportunity to share how we care for our clients, but how we care for ourselves and each other as fellow professionals. We are stronger together!” https://www.octia.co.uk/

Working as a therapist or supervisor in the online world can sometimes feel isolating, bewildering and frustrating. These are negatives amongst the many benefits. The passion emanating from  today’s speakers was strong. Where organisations are often struggling to maintain a steady flow of funding, it was clear from today that everyone present had a deeply held belief in the difference that online therapy can make to clients of all ages. I felt that we are finally entering a time where online therapy  does not need to feel “second best” to face to face therapy. Instead it is well recognised that some very vulnerable clients would not access counselling face to face.

There was an interesting discussion around qualifications for working online. The age-old questions of “are they necessary?” As always, my thoughts turned to “we can never know what we do not know”. I might be biased as I have tutored in online counselling and supervision over the years, but I still remember just how much I did not know when I trained. Those moments of “OMG … !” Todays speakers clearly agreed with the need for appropriate training and good support.

A discussion around providing online therapy from volunteer counsellors was summarised well by Catherine Betley who believes strongly that no counsellor should be asked to work voluntarily. The attributes that they bring need to be respected. I agree and wonder whether the world of online therapy has many therapists passionate about the benefits of online therapy and would even work voluntarily to make it accessible. I know that this is why I worked voluntarily for an online organisation in the past.

My sense is that conferences like OCTIA will help ensure that ethical and safe online practice for the sake of clients will always be the standard at a time when online therapy can still be heard of as “the stepping-stone into face to face therapy”. Putting clients first, we need to stamp this out as being inaccurate and disrespectful of online therapy at a time when online therapists can often be faced with having to make a decision to hold the emotional needs of a very complex client . The passion of many online therapists comes from their desire to meet the needs of clients where they can be best met – whether that is sitting in their bed struck with grief or too full of shame and guilt to sit with a therapist, directly, face to face.  I can’t remember who said this today, but it is  “horses for courses”. The choice of face to face or online therapy can only continue to benefit clients.

Thank you to the OCTIA team – see you next year.

Jan Stiff

CYP Director ACTO