Getting more out of Online co-counselling sessions

Getting more out of Online co-counselling sessions Workshop facilitated by Kate Golten 17/2/2021
A workshop on the subtle differences between online sessions and real face to face. The emotional/feelings side not the technical side. Asking for what we need and trying it out.
2 hours via Zoom

Kate Notes for Introduction:
 Online sessions -the body knows the difference. I hear Philippa Perry (Psychologist and Therapist ) talk about speaking on the doorstep to her daughter who is 2 metres away. When the door closes she feels desperate- why is she rejecting me, what did I do wrong.
I hear Carolyn Spring ( therapist, trauma specialist) talk about how covid has brought up trauma for people. On a physical and primitive level, we are all struggling, fearful of an invisible threat-that is when we need our tribe. And our tribe are not really there.
I mention this because the separation from the group, from family, friends cocounsellors- makes me feel in my body- like a failure, lonely, rejected, disconnected. Like a child who fears that the trusted adult who has left the room will never come back,
The sudden stops and starts of zoom feel like a violent confrontation at the start and then an abrupt booting out of the door at the end.
I feel unsafe, what am I looking at a strange place, an unknown room. Who knows what intruders will crop up, overhear.
I know at real residentials I will select those people I feel safe with, to be in a group or a pair with. I avoid anyone I am scared of, offended by, distrust, dislike. I choose not to have sessions with people who I think/feel are sexist, racist, misogynistic, homophobic, transphobic, ableist. I choose not to have sessions with certain people for all sorts of reasons. I expect there are people who avoid having sessions with me for similar reasons. At online residentials my choices are restricted, in breakout rooms the choice may be removed altogether.
I know the difference in the summer, I sit under a tree in the cemetery with co- counsellor B or G. This person is WITH me I see them, their body language, we are sat together. We have a circle of safety in these sessions under the tree, we can see 360 degrees , hear everything, smell, feel the air on our skins. We know just how close or far away everyone and everything is in this grassy spot.

I have an online session with someone who is looking down, someone whose space is invaded by people coming in, someone who refers to how much their children can overhear from the next room. I have a session with someone whose internet is so bad that they can't see or hear me most of the session. I feel lonely afterwards, defeated, rejected, unimportant.
Group sessions where the 'door' is left open. If the zoom address is in a public space- even if it is only seen by cocounsellors: it's a door left open for people to burst through unexpected, uninvited, unidentified, late. I don't know who will burst in, and if anyone comes late they are bursting in on someone's session time.
Breakout rooms where it feels like we are thrown into a dark cupboard and don't know who we will end up with. How risky does that feel. To be left alone with someone we don't know. In a space we don't know. In private.
Screens where I can't see the person's eyes, where the expressions are blank, fuzzy, or freezing in some weird rictus position.
How much is my attention as counsellor and client disrupted by looking at my own face ? Can I turn the self-view off ?
What can we do ? What can we do with our eyes, our posture, our face ? What can we do with the environment ? What can we say ? Can we move our body, sit, stand, lie ? Use stillness, silence, breathing. There is no touch, but can we mimic touch by holding out hands, miming a hug, mirroring each other massaging shoulders, hug cushions, use weighted wheat bags to mimic the feel of touch on our neck, feet, hands. Can we ask for what we want - I need to see your eyes, I want to lie down, I want you to get closer to the screen. I want to stop this and use a phone instead because the visuals or the sound really don't work well enough.
One of the basic conditions of our sessions is the attention on the face- counsellor has delighted attention, or a calm face which shows no emotion, and eye contact is a must.
The cocounselling contracts (free attention, normal contract, intensive contract )to choose among- but do we need to add more to each of those contracts, if the client can't really believe we are there ? Are there improvised prompts that would help- I'm here, You're not alone, hands stretched out, hugging self, saying client's name. Counsellor cannot see as much of what the client is going through so client may be more self- directed, may need to ask more for what they want, may need to take breaths, take time, notice gut, notice feelings. It seems to me that the balance of attention is easily lost ( maybe both counsellor and client ) so maybe counsellor can intervene a bit more. And client be ready to reject those interventions if client wants to.
Structure of this workshop and how that may contribute to feelings of safety :
Pre-workshop- a sign up list-so that everyone knows who is coming.
Zoom link is only sent to those who sign up- so that there are no unexpected participants or casual visitors who are not really interested in the focus of the workshop.
 Zoom room set up with waiting room so only those who signed up are admitted.
Room opened early to allow for settling in, but closed on time so that late-coming is not an option.
Workshop structure
1. Participants have a minute's silence to sit together and get used to each other, then briefly introduce selves and say short summary of how feeling
Facilitator does intro- a selection of points from the above
2. Breakout rooms- 3's and 4's (not 2's) as a safety measure- topic is Online sessions- what goes wrong, what is hard, what feels wrong (about 5 mins each person)
3 Plenary of points from above- round where each person has about a minute, names who is to speak after them, can pass if wish. Offer of a second round if needed.
4. Breakout rooms- 3's and 4's only as a safety measure- topic is Online sessions- what do I want, need, like, what could I try out, what could I ask for (about 10 mins each person).
5. Plenary of points from the above 2 minutes each in the round. 6. Closing round.
7. Gentle ending with some time for leave taking.

Ideas contributed by participants of what is hard or not working
self view
More eye contact, less eye contact,
closer to the screen, further away
Making the actual space we work in safe- closed, locked, sound proof.
making a choice about who we work with - people we know well, if that is what we want. We are in the midst of an unsafe period, we don't have to settle for feeling unsafe.
what session size works for us 2's 3's 4's etc
more sound, less sound, more light less light.
which contract- maybe now is the time for intensive- the counsellor can improvise and make themselves more present for the client, client has something to respond to, try or reject. It's then harder for either client or counsellor to lose their attention.
In a real session I can feel the person's presence I can judge whether to touch them or not.
 In a real session I can use all of my senses. Moving around.
Even in an online session, can feel a bodily physical reaction if other people come into the other person's room.
(at an online workshop or 'residential' ) Gentle beginnings and endings would help, endings can be so abrupt. Workshops could close down slowly, allow for milling around time, people connect a bit before leaving, allow for one facilitator to do a hand over to the next.
Seeing everyone at once- may be comforting and positive for some, too much for others.
working out where the camera is and changing that if possible so that it is as close to being like eye contact as possible.
Miss being able to shout and scream- it's one of the big benefits of cocounselling in our residential venues.
Discharge aimed at counsellor- more difficult to receive that online- client directing their feelings at a cushion feels important.
Knowing each other from previous meetings, residentials helps us- aware that newer co- counsellors may be finding it hard that they have never met any of the people they are sessioning with.
Breakout rooms- very hard to feel safe going in to the unknown- can refuse, ask for choice, ask for ideal number in the room.
Ideas contributed by participants: wants, needs, things to try out
standing moving lying, working out what the body wants to do
Do dance yoga cushion work during my client time, can imagine that counsellor can be with me, with what I am doing.
like the increased opportunity and accessibility of sessions the more I do it the more I get used it , more comfortable
I want to ask for what I need
I want to feel empowered to ask
Open up online spaces early, to settle in, get used to the group, good to take in a large group
Camera should be wherever best mimics normal eye contact- maybe technology will move on so we can have better eye contact, even virtual reality-type tactile sensations.
Miss residentials, miss local meetings, miss touch.
 It opens up the possibility of going to international CCI meetings without travel Like faces really close to screen as if I could reach out and touch them
I miss music, the actual vibration of voices and instruments and how it vibrates the body, the physical feeling of that.
Ask counsellor to change angle of their screen
Feel empowered to ask
The energy exchange I feel when I resonate with co-worker. It's not impersonal
Tired eyes, how do I give my eyes a rest
Be in my body, feel the environment with and from the other person
Open up my body
Slowing down not speeding up
It was pointed out that there was no-one present who had only ever done online co- counselling

Many thanks to the 10 participants who attended.

 

 

 

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