Accessible Counselling Tullamore [ACT] had its official opening last Monday evening, January 20.
The service, which is a registered charity and a not for profit community based counselling facility, is the brainchild of Ambassador for See Change James O’Connor [See Change works to reduce the stigma associated with mental health issues] and his partner Lisa Guing. The two are also the instigators of the Green Ribbon campaign in Tullamore.
The centre which is located in Millennium House, on Main Street, is bright, spacious and comfortable. Each counselling room is private, tastefully designed and colour coordinated. All named after flowers, the Bluebell room is of course blue, the Rose room is decorated in pink and grey while the Buttercup room is yellow.
Speaking at the ribbon cutting James O’Connor said the idea for the venture began almost two years ago.
“When I started I thought it would a relatively simple process just like setting up a business but nothing could be further from the truth, it was far from simple and definitely wasn’t quick. One thing was clear if we were going to do it we were going to do it right.
“It was a long journey which began with meeting all the key stakeholders and visiting other centres who happily opened their doors to us and we are very thankful to them for the advice and information they shared with us.”
James said both he and Lisa quickly realised they would need qualified help and said they were very fortunate to have Dymphna Somerville join them early on.
“She is as passionate as we are about making this a success. We couldn’t have found a better person as a coordinator.
“We also knew we would need a clinical director, so we set our sights high and took a chance that Seamus Sheedy might come on board. Seamus is highly regarded as a counsellor and supervisor and is the former president of the European Association of Counselling and former chair of the Irish Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy. We are very thankful for his expertise.
“Once we had Seamus and Dymphna on board we hired outside expertise and consultants to help us put together our policies and procedures and governance documents which are our foundation. In these we have built in room to grow and increase our service offer in the future. But we have to walk before we run.
“Then we set out to secure a premises and I think you will agree this is an excellent anonymous location you could be coming into this building for anything,” he added.
“We then put our Trustees in place, Ann Starling who has a skill in that you can’t say no to her and Jane Byrne who put a lot of work into setting up the company and who is looking after the finance side for us. We also have Bernard Westman, Karen Flanagan and Cllr Declan Harvey who have the most important task of keeping our doors open by fundraising.
“Last but by no means least we have Jason Rabbitte who brings a wealth of experience to his role as Chairman of the local Darkness into Light committee. We were fortunate to have a team of dedicated and qualified counsellors and psychotherapists on board. Without whom the centre could not exist as these are the ones on the front line providing professional care to all our clients.”
James also thanked his own team in FititOut and Paula Mulvey for the interior design which was very much admired by all.
“I would like to thank Lisa [Guing] who has done everything from day one. She spent a lot of time including applying for our charitable status which she managed to get in just under six weeks. A great achievement. We heard horror stories about it taking months and years to get, she has done it all while keeping up with her other business interests. It wouldn’t have happened without her. Another person who is critical to this is Josephine Rigney from the suicide prevention office, who personally helped me since day one. I hope we continue our relationship with her and her guidance has been invaluable, she has taken all my calls and emails and has gone above and beyond her role.”
He also went on to thank all those people who supplied electrical equipment anonymously as well as those who helped out in any way.
“While we have a lean operation here we will need continued support and it’s events like these and the support of the public which allow us to continue to thrive. The centre will fill a void for professionally run community based counselling in Tullamore and the greater Offaly area,” he said.
Lisa Guing described the occasion as surreal. “It’s fantastic to see so many people coming to take a look around. It’s better than we ever imagined,” she said. Lisa explained that all of the counsellors are giving of their time voluntarily. We have five at the moment. There are seven counselling rooms so we hope to add more counsellors.” Those in need of the service, “can either give us a call or a text with a mobile or they can drop in and make an appointment. It’s self referral so they come in, you will be assessed and from the assessment you will be assigned to a counsellor that suits you. Everyone will be given six sessions initially but obviously, you can continue if you need more. We would like a contribution from clients but cost isn’t a factor, if somebody can’t pay they won’t be turned away. So it will be discussed in the assessment stage what you can give so it could be €5 or it could be €20 and then you would pay that at each session but, as I said no one will be turned away because of cost,” stressed Lisa.
Coordinator Dymphna Somerville said she was “humbled to be given the opportunity to be part of this community counselling service. Nelson Mandella said it always seems impossible until it’s done. Setting up this centre has been a major achievement,” she said. “During the last couple of weeks when I was giving out leaflets around the town, people said to me the town badly needs this centre in Tullamore. It is a commendable commitment on behalf of James and Lisa to set up this venture for the benefit of the community of Tullamore and environs.” She commended them both for “the excellent work and attention to detail they carried out in making this purpose built centre second to none.”
She went on to say the logo for the centre was designed by local artist Enrica Cullen. The mission is “To support our local community in maintaining positive mental health by providing effective and accessible counselling to everybody and psychotherapy services.”
“ACT provides one-to-one therapy to adults over the age of 18. Our rooms are safe, sound-proof, comfortable and ideal for confidential counselling. Agencies can refer people or people can refer themselves. Our aim is to offer a professional service within 72 hours of the initial contact. We have five psychotherapists/counsellors Anna, Aoife, Carthagena, Laura and myself Dymphna. All professionally qualified and Garda vetted. We offer professional counselling for all not just those on low income or those referred by their GP. All contributions together with money from fundraising events will go towards making the centre sustainable. We hope to get your support in making the service a real community venture which works for the benefit of us all,” she concluded.