Village Counselling Service calls for greater resources to support work of community-based mental health organisations
A properly resourced community-based counselling service is key to addressing the growing waiting lists for mental health services. That’s according to chief executive of the Village Counselling Service (VCS), Dr Marcella Finnerty. She was speaking as Minister of State with special responsibility for Mental Health and Older People, Jim Daly TD visited the VCS facility in the Killinarden Enterprise Park in Tallaght, Dublin 24.
The VCS is the largest community-based counselling service in the country and was established in 2004 to provide affordable, accessible primary care mental health intervention and prevention facilities. In its first year of operation, six therapists saw 24 clients in two porta cabins at the premises of the Tallaght Welfare Society in Tallaght Village. Fifteen years later, a team of 154 volunteer counsellors see in the region of 2,000 clients per year, equating to more than 500 hours of counselling each week.
Commenting Dr Finnerty, said: “We are delighted to welcome Minister Daly today, and appreciate the opportunity to provide an insight into the service the VCS provides. Over the past fifteen years, our centre has grown at a rate we could not have imagined at its inception, and continues to provide a high-quality, accessible, professional, affordable, community-based counselling service. Mental health issues don’t discriminate; the average age of our clients is 32 years; our clientele are drawn from all age groups – with a current age range from six years to over 80. We address a broad spectrum of problems for those who need help at any stage in their lives.”
Issues for which clients seek help from the VCS include depression; relationship problems; chemical dependency; loss and bereavement (including working with those who have been affected by suicide); stress; self-esteem issues; sexual, physical and emotional abuse; and family concerns. Approximately 20 per cent of the service’s clients are children and adolescents, who most commonly present with problems connected with parental separation and anxiety. Given this high percentage, the VCS opened the Sarah-Jane Child and Adolescent Service in 2008, of which more than 2,000 children and teenagers have availed to date.
Dr Finnerty added: “Our work has expanded exponentially in recent years and we see growing demand and growing waiting lists. To continue to meaningfully respond to this demand, we need to remain contemporary and use innovative approaches, such as the delivery of online therapy and the use of other new and emerging technologies. Appropriate and realistic funding, which acknowledges the impact which the VCS has had on the social fabric and mental health and wellbeing of Irish society, will allow us to stay relevant and continue to expand and improve our service offering as we look ahead to the next fifteen years.”
The VCS receives funding from the HSE, TUSLA and the National Office for Suicide Prevention, as well as contributions from clients. Clients pay what they can afford, with the average contribution amounting to €13 per session, however, many clients pay less than that, or nothing at all.
Chair of the VCS, Anna Lee commented: “One of the core values of the VCS is that money must not be a barrier to people accessing high-quality mental health care. However, guaranteeing a quality service, in a welcoming environment that provides warmth and privacy for our clients and for those who deliver our services comes at a cost. Making the VCS’s vision for quality and accessibility real is an enormous challenge, which can only be met over the coming years if adequate resourcing is made available.”
Speaking during his visit to the VCS today, Minister of State with special responsibility for Mental Health and Older People, Jim Daly TD, said: “I would like to commend the commitment and dedication of the independent, voluntary organisations such as the Village Counselling Service, whose work brings so many benefits to the community as a whole. Its input is invaluable in not only providing support for those most vulnerable in our society, but also in heightening awareness of the importance of research and education in this area.”
The VCS is based in and informed by the community it serves and offers appointments Monday to Friday from 8am to 10pm and Saturdays from 8am to 8pm. For more information, visit www.villagecounselling.ie.