Laura Condon, a qualified counsellor and Director of Development at Let’s Get Talking, spoke with LMHA about volunteering, her role, and the services they provide.
What is Let’s Get Talking?
Our mission is to remove all the barriers to accessing counselling and psychotherapy. As you probably know, there is a big gap between the people who can afford to go to private therapy and then people who can’t, and a lot of people are falling through the cracks in the middle. So, what we want to do is fill that gap. We do that by offering a non-set fee policy. What that means is when someone comes in for a service, they’ll come in for an initial appointment and we won’t tell them what to pay; we’ll have a chat with them, we’ll put their needs ahead of their means, as such, and understand what they need to get from the service (what’s going on for them; is it anxiety, depression, trauma, the whole range mental health and other issues, or personal development). After the initial appointment, we’ll agree a fee with them that’s in-line with their circumstances. So, it could be the private rate, but it could also be €10 per session – it really depends on where they’re at. The whole idea is that they can come for as long as they need to: there’s no limit of the amount of sessions, because often if you do qualify for counselling in primary care or you are referred to a psychologist, the amount of sessions you will have sometimes is just not enough for what you need.
The service has changed a lot of the past year or so because of COVID. We’ve had to adapt to keep the service going and to make sure people are looked after and getting the services they need. So, we moved everything online last March. I guess, the whole point of us was to be accessible, so there was no way we could just shut up shop; there was too many people who were already attending us but also of course we’ve had a 53% rise in demand since last year. So, we needed to be online. And thankfully, now, we are reopening for face to face – in the next few weeks, we’re hoping to be at 50% capacity of what we were before. And that’s just brilliant because you get to see people again and get the energy back in the place! To get a buzz, even if it is all face masks.
How did you get involved with Let’s Get Talking?
I had been volunteering before this – volunteering actually got me into this work – with Samaritans and Galway Rape Crisis Centre, just to test myself, to see if I was good enough to sit with people, good enough to hold pain, and could I actually do it. So I suppose I had learned then that maybe this was something I wanted to do. Then when I was qualified, I was working and I was seeing clients [privately], but I suppose what I wanted was to feel more part of a community and have that diversity of people coming in to see me, which maybe you don’t see in private practice because you’re getting people who can afford to come in to see you. So, that’s what drew me to Let’s Get Talking; kind of building that experience and not being out on my own. So, I came on as a volunteer
in 2013, literally just after they opened. It was only through word of mouth because they were so new that I was just hearing it through colleagues that you could volunteer here for a few hours here a week.
What training and supports are in place for volunteers/employees?
So I had had all the training [from counselling degree], but it’s funny because when you’re training, nobody ever tells you it’s going to be completely different in the room. Like, you are doing all these dyads and practicing with colleagues, but really more of the training happens after you qualify. There is the formal training and support. It’s mandatory supervision here so if you’re seeing clients you’re going to supervision in house. But it’s also that informal thing of meeting people in the staff room and talking about “oh did you hear about this course?” or “I’m reading this book” and swapping them around, that kind of thing. You always have the full induction before you start – into our policies etc. But you have that debrief as well after every session, the “am I ok here?”. There’s always someone at hand, even now as part of the management team, I’m on the other side of that, someone who’s had a bit of experience that you can come in and say “god, I’ve had a really tough day” and take five minutes for a cup of tea and a chat. And it’s that informal training that I valued the most, to be honest. A little hub – which we’ve missed because we’ve been on zoom and you don’t get that as much.
The management team are always here as well. There’s also a group of staff counsellors who are in the building three days a week – well before COVID and hopefully after! But there’s always somebody with a bit of experience that you can say to “look, I’ve had a really tough session” and you’re not talking about the clients – confidentiality, of course – but just saying “this is how I feel”, and if we can’t do that for each other, what is the point of us being in the room?
What other volunteer roles are there at Let’s Get Talking?
We’ve a reception manager in Galway and Dublin, but they’re supported by the volunteer receptionists. The volunteers come in for three to four hours, take calls from clients, take payments for sessions, book rooms, that kind of thing. There’s a full training programme for that, obviously, and it’s a little bit more structured because there’s certain policies and procedures at reception. For three weeks, you’re just shadowing and practicing calls before you’re left on your own.
We wouldn’t be able to do it without them. Because we’re accessible, we’re open late in the evening, so we’d have our reception manager working 80-90 hours a week if we didn’t have them! They’re integral; if we didn’t have them, there would be no counselling going on in the evening, and some people need evening sessions. You can have a mental health issue, but you could also work and need to get in in the evening, or you could have kids and just not be free. So, we wouldn’t be able to do it without them.
No qualifications are needed – it’s more about the person. Obviously, it helps if you have a background in admin and you need to be able to use a computer. But if you’re warm and you love people, it’s the role for you. There is that contact all the time. But we’re all supported again; there is usually someone from the management team around if there’s a difficult call, somebody’s very distressed, that can be dealt with and the reception manager is there as well, so you’re not left alone for a very long time and even when you are there is someone you can reach out to. Calls at reception – sometimes it’s the first person they’ve spoken to about all that’s going on so it all comes out and that can be tough. That’s why we really appreciate the volunteer receptionists.
What is a typical day like for each of the roles?
Initially if we have a student counsellor, they might just take two clients. So, in a non-COVID world, that would mean they would come into the centre for two hours. I’ll have a room booked for them, they’ll see their clients, maybe have a break booked in between for half an hour and go to the staff room to get something to eat and then see the second client. Then that will be built up to three to four clients as they gain more experience – so usually they’d have a block of three to five hours per week. Then there’s the requirement that they attend supervision, which we provide for them. That’s a typical day, seeing client’s, taking notes, having the chats, and having a cup of tea.
Then for volunteer receptionists, the hours are much the same, about three or four hours. You come in, answering calls, dealing with people at reception, booking in sessions, booking rooms, and dealing with any kind of enquiry that may come through on the reception line.
As Director of Development, it’s pretty diverse day-to-day. I’m working remotely and in the centre. I still see clients; I have a small case load so I might have a day of just seeing clients, then I might have a day of admin and paperwork – I look after the corporate governance, I also look after funding applications, our new outreaches opening in Limerick, Clare, and Kerry, and be in touch with coordinators down there offering them support, and even interviewing people for volunteering or employment roles. So, it’s a little bit of everything.
How does one get in contact to volunteer or avail of your service?
For both, the best place to start is the website. We do have a page on the website for volunteering, especially fundraising. We’d be interested in talking to people who would like to help out in any way. Obviously, there’s not a lot of shaking buckets at the moment, but if you have an idea for an event or would like to get involved please contact our fundraising manager (firstname.lastname@example.org).
If you’re interested in volunteering at reception, you can call the booking line – the same one that people trying to avail of the service would call (0818 714 001). Or, some people, in terms of availing of the service, may be a little bit shy about actually speaking to somebody but we don’t want that to put them off actually getting in touch and making the first steps. So they can make an appointment, through the contact form on the website, which is also on the contact page. They can pop us an email to book an appointment.
Located in Dublin and Galway, with outreach centres in Limerick, Clare, and Tralee. They are also available for online appointments.
If you would like to avail of the service contact Let’s Get Talking via telephone 0818 714 001 or the contact form available at this link
Written by Nicole Russell, a volunteer with the Limerick Mental Health Association and psychology graduate of the University of Limerick.