Lifeline Armidale wants to recruit more counsellors so it can provide more support services to those in need.
“We're looking to really grow the service from now on,” said Robert Sams, Lifeline’s regional face-to-face counselling manager. “It's taken a little bit of time to get some counsellors, so we're after additional counsellors.”
Lifeline personal and relationship counselling services started in August, at the Neighbourhood Centre, 129 Rusden Street.
“It's a free and available counselling service, and one of the reasons we're in the Neighbourhood Centre is so it's really available,” Mr Sams said. “It's where people can come; they don't have to go into a hospital, they don't have to go into a doctor's surgery, or travel. It's in the heart of town, and it's a place where they're coming anyway."
Over the last six months, Lifeline has helped people with workplace issues, including bullying; grief and loss; a family breakdown; and child custody issues – all causing depression, anxiety, and distress. Its staff are also trained to help people with thoughts of suicide, or those bereaved by suicide.
Numbers, though, are not enough. Its dedicated staff of nine volunteers include only two fully qualified counsellors, who see clients every Thursday. Seven former Lifeline telephone crisis supporters act as receptionists, raise funds, and man the telephones while training to become counsellors.
Lifeline is putting out a call to get more volunteers. "The more counsellors we've got, the sooner we can see people,” Mr Sams said. “We want to be there for people in crisis; we can see someone pretty much the next week, if not sooner."
All face-to-face counsellors must be qualified counsellors or professional psychologists, and go through Lifeline’s orientation programme, which includes 20 hours’ training and a three-month probation.
Lifeline Armidale's longest-running counsellor is Peter Barton, a former motor mechanic who has been involved with Lifeline for 30-odd years.
“I was disappointed when I moved to this area to find that Lifeline had ceased to operate,” he said, “but I was absolutely delighted to see John Malouff [associate professor in psychology at the University of New England] on television saying the face-to-face counselling service was starting up. I went along and became involved, and it's been thoroughly satisfying, both personally and professionally.”
Lifeline is also looking to recruit postgraduate psychology and social work students from UNE to act as counsellors, which will give them more hours of experience.
Lifeline offers an alternative to, and complements, other models of mental health care.
"We're happy to refer to other services, and work with other agencies, and be part of the counselling community in Armidale," Mr Barton said.
Patients can, for instance, access counselling through their GPs, who may refer them to mental health practitioners. These sessions are often limited in number, and may be expensive.
Lifeline has no limit on the number of sessions it provides, and will also lower its fees; it currently charges $40 per session to cover basic administrative expenses. Counsellors can drop the fee at their discretion if a client is in financial distress, but Lifeline will replace fees with a small donation.
"We're not here to make money,” Mr Sams said; “we're not here to do anything other than make sure that people that need the service the most get it when they need it."
To make an appointment or referral, contact the Lifeline office on 4940 2000. For 24/7 crisis or suicide prevention support, phone Lifeline on 13 11 14, or visit www.lifeline.org.au/gethelp.