Firstly, where are we now, as a profession, looking back over eighteen months of a world changed out of recognition by the COVID-19 pandemic? Perhaps we should be taking stock before wondering where we go next. What have we learned from our experiences both professionally and personally and how can be draw together all the best parts of that learning and create a good future for our professional work alongside our lives more generally?
The events of the past couple of years, as we have all been grappling with the impact of COVID-19 in ways we could not have imagined, have brought about a revolution in working practices for counsellors and psychotherapists. For those of us who have been incorporating digital technology into our practice for many years, we have been relocated and are no longer seen as members of a minority group, perhaps looked on with caution and sometimes even suspicion. Instead, we have been able to welcome and offer support to those many, many colleagues who have found themselves thrown in at the deep end with distance-based, technologically mediated approaches and practices.
There have been many different responses and approaches to the challenge of maintaining a practice through the time of the pandemic and various lockdown situations. As a profession, I think we should be truly proud of how we have risen to the challenges! By moving connections online, huge numbers of people have been able to maintain contact with their therapists and to receive invaluable support, at a time when it has never been more needed. I am in no doubt that countless lives have been improved, indeed saved across the world, as a result of the courage and determination of practitioners to find ways of maintaining their work. Many have reported that, far from experiencing something frustrating, constraining or even inadequate as they imagined they might, they have been discovering new openings and opportunities. During the pandemic, my own work has brought me into contact with many wonderful practitioners whose determination and creativity has inspired me and introduced me to exciting new ideas that I can explore within my own practice. We have found ways of sharing our ideas with our colleagues and discovered that, through digital technology, many more routes to exploration, discovery and training are open to us than we realised. This is worth celebrating!
I joined the Online Therapy Institute as a tutor on the Certified Cyber Therapist course in 2020 at a time when we, as a profession were experiencing the most extreme restrictions to our traditional ways of working. My connections with the OTI approach to providing responsible and expansive training through a dynamic, innovative and student-focused approach go back many years and I was delighted to be invited to join the team and play a more active and direct part in helping practitioners consider and deliver their interventions ethically, safely and thoughtfully through digitally mediated, distance-based approaches.
We now find ourselves on the receiving end of confusing and sometimes conflicting information as we explore how to take things forwards from this point. We will not and cannot return to our pre-Covid way of life and many of the new ways of working we have discovered have introduced us to ideas we would like to maintain, develop and share. Many who are reading this will have enrolled on or completed courses such as the CCT programme and discovered for themselves the critical importance of understanding many elements of digitally mediated work that are essential to good practice and that they would not otherwise have considered or engaged with. I have come to know some of you personally and to discover your positive and innovative responses to this through my role as a tutor on the course.
It is likely many of you have colleagues who may not yet have recognised the enormous value they can gain from engaging in a thoughtful and thorough training in working in this way and who perhaps believe they already have the skills they need. Indeed, they have learned a great deal ‘on the job’ and that experience should not be underestimated. However, now is the time for those great new skills to be fully validated and consolidated in a way that means the profession will continue to move forwards ethically, safely and with confidence into whatever brave new world lies ahead. The shape and delivery of training needs may change as the profession acknowledges the place of digital technology at its heart, but the philosophy of continuing to take responsibility for doing things as well as they can possibly be done must not be lost.
I believe we may be at a crossroads here where we can either choose to maintain our professional values through taking responsibility for maintaining ongoing professional training and development in all new ways of working and at all levels, or there is a danger we may find ourselves standing back and watching some of the principles we hold most dear slowly eroding and slipping away. I hope that, as a community at OTI, we can work together to continue to share ideas and to promote our belief in learning to use technology in absolutely the best ways possible.