Minister of State, with special responsibility for Mental Health and Older People, visited the Village Counselling Service (VCS) on Tuesday, 26 February 2019. In attendance were the esteemed members of the community, members of IACP, VCS staff and volunteers, IICP College Students, faculty and staff.

After visiting the counselling rooms (and playing a spot of basketball in the Sarah-Jane Child and Adolescent service), Minister Daly listened as Dr Marcella Finnerty and Anna Lee offered an overview of VCS and the work the service does.

As founder of the VCS, Marcella spoke of how 15 years ago, 24 clients were seen by 6 therapists in the first year of service delivery, and how over the past fifteen years, VCS has grown at a rate we could not have imagined. In 2018, 1,900 clients availed of the VCS services and in that year alone, VCS provided 18,000 client hours. Each of those 1,900 clients were supported and helped on their individual journeys by 154 counsellors. Marcella addressed how the policies and procedures which underpin the therapeutic work promoted within VCS are informed by research and evidence.  This  aligns with the shared core values of both IICP College and VCS, to be ethical and transparent in all that we do.

Marcella described how the service delivery within VCS is largely made possible by the professional and dedicated team of volunteers who commit their time and skills to effect therapeutic change in the lives of the clients with whom they work. The links between VCS and IICP College are based on a model akin to a teaching hospital, and so the VCS counselling team is made up of a mix of specialised, accredited, qualified, pre-accredited, and student therapists. In closing, Marcella drew the Minister’s attention to some important financial considerations. To provide an equal service the HSE would need a staffing, administration and accommodation budget in excess of one million euro per annum.

Anna Lee, the VCS Chairperson, stated that VCS is fully aware of the challenges ahead. Addressing the constant issue of capacity, Anna pointed out that investment is needed if we hope to provide an appropriate service that moves with the times, the nuances of people’s lives and the pressure of demand versus capacity. Investment in the right structures and software, and investment in training and upskilling therapists is essential. In line with cutting-edge best practice and progression, the emergence of ‘online therapy’ is a serious consideration within VCS as a technological support that may assist the service in ensuring that all clients, at all times, can access therapy.

In his closing address, Minister Daly noted the value of VCS, and the importance of its physical location in the heart of the community. Significantly, he also noted the potential for replication of the model in the provision of primary care mental health intervention and prevention services around the country. While he respectfully addressed the useful work undertaken by acute services and the relevant funding such services receive, he also spoke of his understanding that people’s mental health and well-being concerns stand a higher chance of being successfully managed before they reach acute levels when an accessible service like VCS is present within the community.

In addition, he spoke of the vital Sarah-Jane Child and Adolescent Counselling Service that is offered through VCS, referring to the VCS as an example of what we can do as a society. He commended the dedicated work of the VCS team; manager Amanda Gilsenan, administrator Anne O’Reilly, and the 154 volunteer therapists. Minister Daly also noted the strong leadership of Dr Marcella Finnerty as the founder, Anna Lee as chairperson, along with the VCS board of management, and Caitriona Kearns as Registrar of IICP College, as important underpinning forces driving the service forward as a cutting edge, responsive, effective therapeutic service that meets the mental health needs of those whom it serves.

On behalf of all IICP College faculty, staff and students we congratulate the VCS on its excellent provision of service and we thank Minister Daly for his supportive words and continued work in creating a Mental Health system within Ireland that recognises the vital necessity of community based, accessible-to-all services, such as the VCS.