Third Person in The Counselling Room
Recording Therapy sessions with clients
Effective client contact is a sacred bond where client and practitioner grow and learn but does a recording device in the room change the dynamics?
Part of studying counselling is examining our practice in professional discussion and having a recording of part of a session is an accepted part of learning. Playing the recording to fellow students and a supervisor allows a second set of ears into the counselling session and valuable feedback and indeed self learning can be gained by monitoring our practice.
Carl Rogers valued recording a session as “the one best way of learning to improve”
“Then came my transition to a full-time university position where, with the help of students, I was at last able to scrounge equipment for recording our interviews, I cannot exaggerate the excitement of our learnings as we clustered about the machine which enabled us to listen to ourselves, playing over and over some puzzling point at which the interview clearly went wrong, or those moments in which the client moved significantly forward. (I still regard this as the one best way of learning to improve oneself as a therapist).” Carl Rogers
An excerpt from Carl Rogers Empathic: An unappreciated way of being published in the Counselling Psychologist, 5(2), 2-10 http://www.elementsuk.com/libraryofarticles/empathic.pdf
Recording a client presents challenges both technical and ethically and there is much for the trainee counsellor to consider before the first recording can be made.
I feel I would like to address the ethics of recording in this article as without proper ethical foundation, the counselling relationship could stall or fracture beyond repair.
There are agencies that will not allow recording of sessions and this is something that should be checked when looking for a placement. Agencies may have good reason such as a centre for abused women would probably not allow recordings for protection reasons.
If your placement is with an agency that does not allow recording of sessions, it is suggested by this writer that you consider taking a second placement where recordings are allowed. The point is to check by asking when looking for your placement.
Recordings should be part of your contract with the client from the very start. There is no room to bring a recording device in midway through a series of sessions as this is a change in the environment that was agreed at contracting.
In your contract, explain what the recording is for, who will listen to the recording and contract around the ownership of the digital file or tape after counselling sessions have finished.
Mention that elements of the recording may be listened to by your supervisor and your colleagues in professional discussion and inform the client of the confidentiality agreements within these separate groups such as group contracts and supervisor contracts. This can help reassure the client that their confidentiality is respected by those who listen to the recording.
Tell the client why the recording is listened to. Any recorded material taken into professional discussion should be used for the sole purpose of focusing on the practitioner and how they are working with the presented material and not on the presented material itself.
The same recording taken to supervision may be worked with differently but again the reason for examining recordings is not to focus on the client but to focus on the way the practitioner works with the client.
Ask the client how they feel about the recording of session and invite any questions they may have. If the client feels uncomfortable with recording then do not record that clients sessions.
If a client agrees to recording, inform them they can change their mind at anytime and that all previous recordings will then be deleted immediately. This gives the client control over their recordings.
The training counsellor should keep ownership of the recording however some practitioners may offer the client a copy for their own reflection. There are positives and negatives associated with giving a client a copy, one of the stronger negatives is the recording may be accessed by a third party without their concent if the recording is not securely stored.
Security of the recording held by the practitioner is paramount. If digital recordings are stored they should be on password protected drives and should be deleted when no longer in use. Tapes and cd’s should be treated as you would your notes and locked away securely. The client should be informed as to how their tapes or files will be handled, for how long they are kept and how and when they will be deleted or destroyed after use.
I am a qualified counsellor in private practice and I still have recording of sessions in my contract and from time to time I record clients and take the recordings to supervision. I have found, and continue to find, that listening to my sessions informs my practice and greatly aids in me being a reflective practitioner.