Counselling is offered to people supported by St Martins as part of the Validate@ programme. Qualified counsellor Laura Osborne offers weekly sessions at the hostel. She said, “It’s a space for clients to talk about their experiences and to be heard. Counselling gives a person a confidential space to process what they’ve been through in their own way and at their own pace, which is a rare experience for some people”
Laura has always had a passion for helping people and now as a qualified counsellor, she has a particular interest and drive to want to help people from all different backgrounds, she continues to say, “There are a lot of people that cannot afford private counselling. I would like to offer the opportunity to access counselling sessions to all people, including those that are less privileged. We all suffer with our mental health no matter our bank balance and/or class.”
When Laura first meets a new client she doesn’t know any of the client’s information other than their name. Laura classes the first session as an initial assessment. Within this session the client and Laura get to know each other, discuss if there is a particular reason as to why the client feels like they want counselling and to go through a contract/agreement together to agree the timing of sessions every week, confidentiality and boundaries. Although beneficial to a lot of people, counselling isn’t for everyone, and Laura is aware of the potential risk of re-traumatising someone. She said, “It’s got to be the right time for the client and they have to be ready, which is why the initial assessment process is important to evaluate any risk.”
Laura’s clients all have different experiences and backgrounds and they choose to use the counselling sessions in different ways. Laura’s approach is Person-Centred Counselling. She said, “The premise is that you are the expert on you and your experience’s, I do not guide or lead the client in any way. I am non-directive and I adapt to the individual.”
Some clients meet Laura in a private room in the hostel which is already familiar and helps them to feel comfortable. Others prefer to meet elsewhere because the hostel environment might be associated with difficult experiences, conversations or people, so Laura offers walk and talk therapy as well as creative arts therapy.
Transition is important; the time before and after the counselling sessions. Volunteer Mia is on hand spend time with clients in a communal lounge if people want to chat and be with someone after a session rather than return to their room alone.
Laura has worked extensively with clients experiencing homelessness, she says, “Clients don’t always want to talk about homelessness or their addictions, but sometimes about what got them to St Martins and/or their trauma or even their childhood” Person-Centred Counselling is not about offering advice, it is about truly listening and hearing the client on that day, in that moment all while offering empathy, being genuine and non-judgemental.
An important part of the counselling programme is to offer consistency. If a person moves out of the hostel during the course of their counselling, they can still access counselling sessions with Laura. The counselling at St Martins is offered in collaboration with outside agencies. While Laura doesn’t advise, she is aware of boundaries and the limitation of counselling. Laura has, and can signpost to other local support networks available and can refer people on for further support eg, GP, mental health team and/or psychiatrist.