Susan Ellingham interviews Jonathan Smith volunteer counsellor with SAFE (Stop Abuse For Everyone) for a behind the scenes look at Jonathan’s role in SAFE
Tell me about yourself and the work you undertake
My name is Jonathan Smith and I am a volunteer counsellor with SAFE (Stop Abuse For Everyone). I trained as a counsellor with the Iron Mill College in Exeter. As part of my counselling training I have to undertake a placement for 150 hours. I am currently a student member of BACP (British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy). I receive clinical supervision to support me (all counsellors have to receive clinical supervision). Although I am signed off as competent to practise and have completed a number of years of class room training and education, in order to be a fully qualified member of the BACP (British Association for Counsellors and Psychotherapy), I must complete my placement hours and pass a VIVA examination conducted by the BACP. As a counsellor I have to be insured for liability.
I have been a volunteer with SAFE since March 2017. SAFE were looking to set up a counselling service and therefore following discussions with Sarah, the volunteer co-ordinator, I was given the opportunity to initially mentor young people through SAFE’s children and families support service.
In December 2016 I was able to enter into a counselling contract which meets the BACP requirements to enable SAFE to offer counselling. Counselling offers emotional support rather than practical support.
What does your role involve?
I currently provide 4 hours of counselling sessions per week. This equates to four clients per week. The service is offered for free by SAFE. There is currently a waiting list of between 10- 20 people waiting for the opportunity to have counselling.
Like a lot of support services, there are occasions where a client will not show for their session. If there is a no show and the client is someone who has engaged in a 10 x 1 hour session counselling programme, then I will check up on them to find out the reason behind their no show as I wish to check up on their welfare. If I have concerns for the client’s welfare I will report that to a SAFE worker. Often the reason behind a no show is a domestic crisis but it could be due to traffic or simply too much going on and forgot!
To prepare for my day ahead I make sure my appointment list is full. I do this by working with SAFE admin staff to make sure all appointments are booked.
When the 10 sessions are coming to an end I will alert Becky Newton, our SAFE Intake and Assessment Team Leader that the client’s sessions are coming to an end so that she can allocate the slots for someone else. If the client needs further sessions, there is discretion to increase the counselling sessions by a further 10 sessions.
Is your work as a volunteer?
Fortunately, I am in a position that I am able to offer my services to SAFE for free. I gave up working in 2014 and have now effectively semi-retired and working on another career path. I have done a lot of volunteer work over the years including work with the Community Charities. I have been involved in a number of ad hoc projects for my local Community Association such as a community garden which was funded by Tesco; I have also helped set up charity concerts for Charities such as SAFE and St. Petrock’s and perform as a pianist and singer.
In my past life I worked for an IT company as a security architect setting up security solutions for many well-known global companies and organisations. Mental health difficulties are a big problem in such large sales led companies due to the pressures placed upon the workers and this sparked my interest in counselling.
Can you provide an outline of the work you undertake?
Before my 4 hours shift I will check my notes to make sure I have the information I need and consider theory notes relevant.
A lot of my counselling sessions cover the following areas:
- Client is trying to get back to work.
- Client is trying to regain confidence
- Client has mental health issues, clinical depression or personality disorder which I assist with working alongside their mental health support specialists.
- Client may be working through a family or criminal court process
My clients are often in a situation of flux, they are trying to rebuild their lives in new locations and in new challenging situations. We try to provide emotional support while they try to put their life in order or just cope with their circumstances.
I have worked with people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and provided emotional support to complement the treatment sessions they have through a medical professional.
The sessions are very much like offloading to a friend, but I am not part of their life and I am not going to be judgmental or directive. The counselling process creates a safe space to explore and challenge clients as they work through their emotional circumstances and their thought process.
Not everyone is able to engage in the counselling session. Sometimes it can be very hard as a counsellor to engage with a client.
The content of counselling sessions is confidential; however, if someone is in danger, client confidentiality may be broken but normally with the agreement and knowledge of the client. I keep anonymous notes and an electronic note to say the client has attended the sessions and a record of the next follow-up meeting/call. All anonymised notes are confidential.
Counselling sessions are set up in safe environment for all concerned. There is another member of staff on hand when I meet with clients as we are dealing with vulnerable people and we need to make sure that safe guarding for all is in process.
I encourage clients to acknowledge and explore their emotions and connect them with aspects of their life and experiences. I work with them to healthily address emotional problems they have and improve their wellbeing. There are multiple ways of working based on a multitude of counselling modalities or techniques based on various theories. Sometimes it will take trying a variety of techniques to find the approach which suits the client.
I sometimes use mindfulness. This was part of my training at the Iron Mill. This is where people put aside time to practice mindfulness meditation. An example is to sit down and work the way through your body from toes to head recognising all your senses. It is designed to put you into ‘the here and now’ and be present.
Clients can sometime present in very depressed or uncommunicative states and this can be challenging for both counsellor and client. The only thing I can do is to be present with them and gently introduce them to the counselling ‘space’ which hopefully they will be able to gain trust in and start to engage with the process of counselling. The aim is always to form a therapeutic relationship, and this can take time, several sessions perhaps. If successful, this can be the basis for movement and the work of the counselling process can begin.
The sessions last for 50 minutes. After each session I take some time to clear my mind prior to the next session. I will have a cup of tea, talk to someone, go out for some fresh air or go to the shop to enable me to prepare for the next client.
I have a line manager who is a SAFE employee through the voluntary co-coordinator. Safe rely heavily on volunteers. SAFE is a very supportive environment not only for the client but also for the staff. There is mutual self-support between staff members.
How important is your service?
The service I provide is a free service. The clients often don’t think about how the service is funded and the limited resource they have access too. Some of the clients I see want to offer their services back and want to volunteer in the future to help others. Low cost counselling resources are in limited supply, so the service offered by SAFE is invaluable to our clients. It is not a statutory service provided by SAFE. Some services provided by SAFE are funded by statutory resources. SAFE are meeting the cost of the counselling from fundraising. SAFE ethos is to make sure people don’t feel shame in using the service.
Stop Abuse For Everyone
1 Queens Road
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