The Development of Pathways Counselling Service
The Vision was to establish a Counselling Service for the people of Hinckley and the surrounding area, run professionally by members of local churches as a service to the community.
Pathways is not intended as a form of evangelism and Counsellors undertake not to discuss their faith unless specifically invited to do so by a client, and then only if it is appropriate within the context of the Counselling relationship.
There is a great need, already established within the area, for Counselling, particularly among clients who cannot afford private rates, which can range upwards from £30 per session.
The vulnerability of clients accessing these services cannot be stressed enough and a professional approach is considered vital to ensure their protection and the credibility of the Service.
The vision for Pathways began over 20 years ago but only really came to fruition in 2006 when Counsellors actually began to see clients under the banner of Pathways. An initial grant was received from the Diocese of Leicester – Parish Mission Fund – in March 2007 and again in 2010. These, together with income from clients and several small donations, have supported the work to date.
Initially, the build up of clients and Counsellors was slow but we currently support 20-25 clients per week and provided around 900 hours of counselling in 2011. Many, if not all, of these clients would have been unable to afford private counselling and it is likely they would have had to go on a waiting list for NHS provision. The NHS counselling is not generally long-term, and so it has been good that at Pathways, we have been able to support a number of clients whose counselling was over one or two years.
Where a client is receiving benefits we do not expect much contribution and many clients contribute between £5 & £10. The contribution is at the Client’s discretion and we do not challenge this, except to suggest a contribution of £15 for the Assessment to help cover our administration costs. Even this is negotiable in the event of financial difficulty. If a Client genuinely cannot contribute anything – as may be the case with a young person – we do not see this as a barrier to them receiving counselling.
Pathways now has four counsellors from different denominational backgrounds, who are asked to commit to giving a minimum of two hours per week, although all give more than this. The breadth of available times and skills within the group makes it possible to offer quite a comprehensive service.
Since 2007, links have been made with a local doctor’s surgery and referrals are made on a regular basis by several GPs. Two Counsellors also work in local schools, some work being directly contracted through Pathways, and we have recently been joined by a Play Therapist who is working with children in three primary and junior schools.
Part of the vision for Pathways was to have a group of trained Listeners – people working in their local church to act as a contact and referral point for the counselling service; to offer listening and support as required, possibly in bereavement situations; to act as befrienders should we have people on a waiting list; and generally to support the work of their local church. Although this is not happening yet under the Pathways banner, the Service has run two Pastoral Listening Skills courses (30-hours each), which are supported by Leicester Diocese training department who use a version of the course for their Pastoral Assistants.
Suitable premises are always a difficult issue in order to maintain the confidential nature of the Service. Pathways has been fortunate in that some Counsellors have their own private rooms and for the rest we have the use of two small rooms at St John’s Church, Hinckley. St John’s PCC are also generous enough to provide these rent-free (although Pathways do make a donation, where funds allow, towards heating and lighting costs). The cost of providing these resources ourselves and paying rent at full cost would be in excess of £5,000 per year (based on our current usage) so this is a huge saving for which Pathways is very grateful.
Pathways has always considered it to be important that we offer a professional service that has integrity and credibility with other statutory services. It is therefore necessary to ensure that our Counsellors adhere to a recognised Ethical Framework and are members of a recognised professional body. These requirements have a financial implication and, as we do not want Counsellors to be penalised financially for offering their time, we have chosen to offer a pro-rata contribution to Counsellors to cover these costs, based on the hours they give to Pathways. In addition, as the number of referrals increased it was clear that we would need to ask Counsellors to give more than two hours per week and offering a small remuneration made it easier to ask for, and for them to give, more time.
Overall, Pathways is providing a much-needed service to people on low incomes, benefits, or those unemployed, who could not afford a private service. Additionally, while as Christians our Counsellors do not promote their faith, they are able to offer a more holistic approach that includes consideration of a client’s spiritual needs (regardless of their faith) as well as their physical, emotional, and mental health needs. We always prayed that we would not become overloaded and have to operate a long waiting list. So far, God has honoured this and as one client ends we find another comes along relatively quickly. At present (2014) we have a short waiting list but this is due to clients requiring a specific day/time.