Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy
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IACP Working Therapeutically Online: Practice Guidelines and Competencies

Published 27/02/2024 - please see full document in the downloads on the left of this page. 

Executive Summary

The IACP Working Therapeutically Online: Practice Guidelines and Competencies are intended for counsellors, psychotherapists, supervisors who provide therapeutic and/or supervisory services using technology or via the internet.

Though the guidelines are primarily intended for practitioners, they are equally relevant to anyone, including service managers, interested in the provision of therapy online. Online provision of psychological therapies is increasingly used by practitioners of various theoretical orientations, and research in the field indicates that many clients both value and benefit from this mode of delivery. Although, there are still therapists who prefer traditional in-person therapy, there are many clients and therapists who, for various reasons, find therapy online useful to supplement traditional therapy in-person or preferable to therapy in-person. There are diverse reasons for this preference, including issues of distance, accessing specialist support, time constraints or the inability to access therapy within a specific, often rural, area.

As technology is evolving at a very fast pace, it would be impossible to provide information here about every facet, or to give answers to the potentially endless variety of issues and challenges which individual practitioners, organisations and service users may encounter. As a result, we strongly recommend that practitioners include some ongoing continuing professional development (CPD) in their annual CPD planning process should all or part of their practice be delivered online. One example of such a training is the IACP course Working Professionally Online (a six-module training) available through the IACP portal in the members area.

This document provides a comprehensive framework for therapists and supervisors engaging in online therapeutic work, covering various competencies, legal considerations, and practical guidance. It underscores the importance of adhering to ethical principles, ensuring client suitability for online therapy, establishing clear contracts, maintaining confidentiality, and navigating technological, legal, and jurisdictional issues.

The guidelines emphasise the need for continuous professional development, including specialised training in online therapy, understanding the nuances of working across borders, ensuring GDPR compliance, and preparing for emergency scenarios. It highlights the significance of proper risk assessment, especially concerning minors, couples, families, and groups, while emphasizing informed consent and meticulous documentation.

Additionally, it stresses the significance of self-care for practitioners, supervisory requirements, and the ongoing need to stay updated with evolving technology and emerging research in the field. The guidelines provide a structured approach for therapists and supervisors to ensure safe and effective online therapeutic practices while adapting to the changing landscape of digital therapy.

The document outlines several key competencies necessary for therapists and supervisors engaged in online therapeutic practices, please see a summary below:


Clinical Competencies:
Assessment of Online Applicability: Assess the suitability of one's therapeutic approach for online practice.

Evaluation of Limitations: Understand limitations of online therapy within the context of interventions and expected outcomes.

Transparent Communication: Communicate risks, limitations, training, and methods clearly to clients/supervisees.

Supervision Engagement: Discuss the transition to and delivery of online services with a clinical supervisor.

Adaptation to Theoretical Models: Consider how different therapeutic models may pose challenges in online delivery. 

Professional Competencies:
Client Assessment & Suitability: Evaluate client/supervisee suitability for online therapy and refer when necessary.

Contract Establishment: Create detailed contracts outlining services, fees, expectations, and technological aspects.

Informed Consent: Secure informed consent from clients/supervisees, ensuring clarity on confidentiality and limits.

Insurance Coverage: Ensure professional indemnity insurance covers online practice and relevant jurisdictions.

Secure Financial Transactions: Safeguard financial information and establish payment protocols.

Supervision & Professional Support: Engage in adequate supervision and support for online work, ensuring competence.

Technology Failure Planning: Plan for technology breakdowns, ensuring minimal disruption to therapy sessions. 

Technological Competencies:
Safe Technology Usage: Ensure secure and updated technology, including encryption and firewall measures.

Client Education: Instruct clients on privacy protection and safety measures when using online platforms. 

Legal Competencies:
Data Protection: Adhere to Irish law on data protection and comply with GDPR regulations.

Interjurisdictional Practice: Understand and comply with accreditation and legal requirements across different geographical areas.

Comprehensive Training: Acquire training covering various aspects of online therapy, including technology, ethics, and risk management.

Specialist Training Consideration: Evaluate specialized courses against guidelines for suitability in online therapeutic practice. 

Regular Supervision: Engage in supervision sessions aligned with in-person and online work requirements.

Adherence to Guidelines: Follow IACP guidelines for online counselling and psychotherapy in supervision. 

Specific Considerations for Online Therapy:
Risk and Technical Management: Mitigate risks involving practitioner competence, informed consent, privacy, and security.

Therapist Self-Care: Maintain boundaries, self-awareness, and follow ethical guidelines for self-care.

Emergency Protocols: Establish emergency contact information and protocols for in-session emergencies.

Working with Minors, Couples, Families, and Groups: Ensure consent, safety, and thorough assessment procedures specific to these client groups.

Staying Updated: Keep abreast of evolving research and technological changes impacting online therapeutic practices. 

These competencies cover a wide range of areas necessary for effective, ethical, and safe delivery of therapy and supervision services online.

We hope that you will find these guidelines useful when working online with your clients and that the document gives you support and direction in developing your competencies and skills as an online therapist and supervisor.


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