With its bespoke counselling rooms currently closed to the public, award-winning hospice Treetops has moved to online counselling to support bereaved adults and youngsters, and those diagnosed with a life-limiting condition.

In line with national guidelines, Treetops Hospice Care, based in Risley, Derbyshire, closed its buildings at the start of the Coronavirus pandemic but quickly sought a solution to ensure clients could continue with their weekly counselling sessions.

It’s reminded me I have the inner strength to get through this dark time

Rebecca Shaw, 41, from Derby began counselling at Treetops just before Christmas last year, following the death of her husband.

“When lockdown began, I continued my sessions via Zoom. Practically, it was much easier to attend the sessions – no long drive, no childcare to source and no significant time away from work.

“Personally, I was more comfortable opening up in my house. I generally took the call whilst sat on my bed as this is my safe space and it was easier to say exactly what I needed to say.

“Counselling has helped me process what happened. It enabled me to understand my feelings and find a way to live with the pain. It’s reminded me I have the inner strength to get through this dark time but not to hide from the waves of pain as they come. I see my life from now on as living alongside my grief and don’t expect to ever get over what happened.”

It’s time away from everything, just for you

Rebecca encourages others to consider online counselling:

“Find a safe space and get used to thinking or writing about your feelings there. Make it a place where you can truly focus on yourself and then arrange the Zoom call.

“Keep focusing on you and your feelings, and once you let the counsellor in, they will add another layer of support. It’s time away from everything you are dealing with, just for you.”

A confidential space to talk about the impacts of bereavement or illness

Michael Stanley, 59, has been a counsellor for Treetops for three years. He is currently working from his home in Belfast where he was living when lockdown began:

“I provide counselling support to bereaved adults and children, and to anyone who is, or has, a family member with a life-limiting condition.  I provide a confidential space for them to talk about the impacts of their bereavement or illness.

“I also assess clients.  What this really means is I spend time telling them about our service, understand what has happened to them that brings them to Treetops and work out together with them whether we are the best service for their needs.

“Normally we would assess clients and have all their counselling sessions in person.  The pandemic has prevented us doing this and some clients have decided they don’t want to have sessions remotely.  For others, they have been happy to use remote means and so I am now talking to clients by phone or by Zoom.”

More challenging working in the virtual world

Michael acknowledges the challenges facing the 50 members of the counselling team, including volunteers:

“Virtual counselling was a little daunting initially.  I wasn’t sure how I would find it or whether clients would like it, but it has actually worked really well.  At the beginning of the pandemic, I’d not even heard about Zoom but now it’s part of my everyday world for work and for social contact.

“It is more challenging working in the virtual world. You can get much more of a sense of what is going on for a client when you are sitting with them. That’s more difficult to do when you see them on a screen or when you are just listening to a voice on the phone.

“Overall though, it has been a really great experience and it has been wonderful to support new, as well as existing clients, throughout this time.”

Treetops is amazing at adapting to change

And the hospice has been able to support even more clients as Michael explains:

“Before the pandemic, we could be restricted by not having enough physical space – counselling rooms – to see clients or do initial assessments.  One benefit of the online service is that so long as you and your client both have somewhere quiet and private to work, you don’t have the restrictions of room availability, so we can potentially help more people.

“Not seeing my colleagues in person is hard, but we speak often to make sure everyone is supported and knows exactly what is going on. Team meetings are even more important as some colleagues have been impacted by bereavement, shielding or an inability to do the type of work that they were doing before, such as our complementary therapists.  It’s really important to keep close to each other and to provide support and friendship to help everyone in these unusual times.

“Overall, I think this has shown that Treetops is amazing at adapting to change and despite the challenges that the Coronavirus pandemic has brought, we have continued to support our clients, volunteers and staff.”

Treetops provides nursing care and emotional support for adults with life-limiting conditions as well as their families and carers, and those who’ve been bereaved.

Last year, the hospice provided almost 3,000 adult bereavement counselling sessions, over 1,100 bereavement sessions for children and families, and over 600 support sessions for people dealing with a life-limiting condition. Counselling is available to all users of Treetops Hospice Care services and people registered with a GP practice in Derby city or Southern Derbyshire.

In addition to virtual counselling, during the Coronavirus pandemic, Treetops has hand-delivered therapeutic care packages to over 50 bereaved children and young people.

Treetops is doing all it can to continue to support those in most need. However the charity predicts a huge loss in income in the coming months, due to the temporary closure of all their charity shops, and postponement or cancellation of many fundraising events. The hospice launched an Emergency Appeal earlier this year.