Most therapists, like their clients, hope that they will be there forever to support their clients - but should the worst come to pass, have you made sure that processes are in place to care for your clients when you are unable to?
Imagine this from the client's perspective . . . you’re in therapy. You’ve been having regular sessions now for the past 8 months, as you try to come to terms with the loss of a loved one. You’ve figured out that there’s an underlying abandonment issue too, stemming from childhood. You’ve made good progress in dealing with both and things are looking up. The loss no longer feels quite so raw and you’re able to identify triggers and behaviours relating to abandonment, sometimes being able to catch yourself before old patterns play out.
You show up for your weekly therapy session. Weirdly, your therapist doesn’t answer the door when you first ring - normally they’re very prompt. You try again, but still nothing. You wait for a few more minutes, wondering whether they popped out before your session and were delayed getting back. You ring once more but they still don’t open up.
You wait for ten more minutes and decide to call it a day. When you get home, you double check your emails to see if they’d notified you that they’d be away that week - perhaps you’d missed it or their message somehow ended up in the junk folder? There was no forewarning though, which seems odd. Alarm bells are ringing. You fire off an email checking in:
“Where were you today? Is everything okay?”
Over the next few days you hear nothing back. A feeling of anxiety is triggered in you… familiar feelings of worry about being abandoned. Surely your therapist should be the last person to do that - they’re literally paid to be someone you can count on. Was it something you did or said? You cast your mind back to the last session… were you rude or inappropriate?
A week has passed and you still haven’t heard from them. Should you show up for your session as normal? Or is this their way of saying they no longer want you as a client? You feel yourself panicking and thought patterns of unworthiness and loneliness kick in…
Now imagine that the therapist in this scenario had died. Although we don’t like to think about it, all of us can become ill and even die unexpectedly, including therapists. If such a situation were to play out, it’s important that practitioners have a plan in place so that someone can notify their clients as quickly as possible, in an appropriate manner, to limit the hurt and disruption, to allow the client to continue with their therapeutic journey and, perhaps, deal with the additional shock of losing their therapist.
Indeed, most accrediting bodies recommend that their therapists create a Clinical Will - a document that does exactly that, laying out the plan of action in case of their untimely demise. The BPC even asks practitioners to confirm the names of two clinical trustees or executors as a way of ensuring this provision has been made.
Yet many practitioners don’t plan for this eventuality and, even if they do, their records are not always easy to find or kept up to date. For many, this is because it can actually be quite difficult to stay on top of this kind of documentation and ensure that it is confidential and secure, yet accessible enough for the one or two individuals who have been nominated by them to take charge of their affairs.
Should it be filed away somewhere? If so, do the nominated trustees need access to both the building and locked cupboard where the notes are kept? Or perhaps the files should be digital, stored in a shared and locked file? How easy, then, is it to ensure that each person can access only the information that they need without breaking confidentiality? What happens to the more tech-shy therapist who struggles to set up such a system? And what exactly should go into such a will?
Stillpoint Professional Member, coach and psychotherapist, Michael Toller faced these issues a couple of years ago when he sat down to create his own clinical will. He soon realised that there was an opportunity here to remove many of the obstacles and provide a simple tool for practitioners to make a clinical will that would free up their time and energy to focus on clients rather than administration.
Working with a contact from the tech industry, they sat down together to create ClinicalWill.app - an app that practitioners of any kind (therapists, counsellors and coaches) can use to set up and maintain their Clinical Wills. Not only that, but the app prompts therapists to fill in all the essential information that their successor might need with regular reminders to keep it up to date, all while helping to maintain GDPR compliance.
It’s never easy or enjoyable to plan for something like this, but it is important. Here at Stillpoint, we love to support our members in their creative initiatives. Michael’s impetus to make creating a clinical will that bit easier and more secure is a great example of the kind of innovations we like to see in the field of psychotherapy. When our members create something great, we like to shout about it on their behalf!
If you’d like any more info about Michael's Clinical Will App, please feel free to check out this short video (below) or drop him a message - you can do so by messaging him through his profile in our Professional Members’ Directory.