Covid changes social worker’s practice from face to face to online
Erla Coetzee, a Nelspruit-based social worker in private practice, has been nominated as business woman of the year for 2023 in the Lowveld South African Council for Business Women (SCBW) Excellence Awards.
Erla says that very few people realise that social workers can be in private practice, as they are used to seeing them in schools or welfare organisations.
“It is a bit challenging sometimes to explain to people that I do not work with children and that I do not do the ‘traditional’ social work,” she says.
Like with so many others, the Covid-19 pandemic completely changed the Erla’s practice.
“I used to see people face to face, but during lockdown I started working online and doing more telephonic counselling. Now my practice is 100% online – or telephonic. I mainly work with international clients, as my referral source is an international company,” she says.
Most of her referrals come from an international employee-assistance programme (EAP) service provider.
“Some of these clients continue consulting me privately after the sessions provided by the EAP provider have come to an end. I took on more clients and, through word of mouth, I grew this side of my business. The result is that my income gradually increased, and now my last invoice to this EAP provider was about double what the first invoice of this year was,” she says.
I used to see people face to face, but during lockdown I started working online and doing more telephonic counselling.Erla Coetzee
Working online also made it possible for Erla to move from Gauteng to Nelspruit to be closer to family. She could pack up her home and office in Gauteng and relocate to Nelspruit without a drop in clients or income.
“I was able to take a day off and move over a weekend. It took a lot of planning and late nights of packing, but as far as my clients were concerned, this was a seamless process for them,” she says.
Her Gauteng clients were comfortable with continuing with online sessions.
But working online only did not come without its challenges.
“My greatest challenge since going online, was to be able to keep working during load shedding. I had to invest in a backup power solution for my computer equipment as well as my fibre internet access.
I am the practice, so all the responsibilities are mine.Erla Coetzee
“Another big challenge is working alone. I have no colleagues to support me or discuss cases with. To mitigate that, I increased my networking,” she says.
“I am the practice, so all the responsibilities are mine. I make appointments with clients and of course do the counselling. I also do the administration related to the counselling – such as process or clinical notes – and then the invoicing,” she says.
To balance her work and personal life, Erla spends time with family and friends over weekends.
“I rest enough and I have a few hobbies. I also have a puppy and caring for her forces me to get away from my desk to walk her or to play with her.”
I joined the SACBW and felt very welcome from the first meeting and I enjoy seeing everyone each month.Erla Coetzee
She tries to stick to office hours, although this is not always possible, as she mostly works with international clients, and the different time zones complicate this.
“I have only been working in the Lowveld for a year now. I have gotten involved on the periphery of some social-upliftment projects, assisting, and advising where needed, and I serve on the committee of a well-known local charity organisation,” she says.
When she first arrived in Nelspruit a year ago, she felt that she had to do networking as she did not know many people in the Lowveld.
“I joined the SACBW and felt very welcome from the first meeting and I enjoy seeing everyone each month. The different topics at each meeting are also very interesting and helpful,” she says.