The number of couples using walk-in counselling services is on the rise. Pixabay

ShareLife supports walk-in clinics vital for people in crisis

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  • March 17, 2018

Everyone goes through times of crisis, but not everyone has a place to turn to for mental health support. 

Catholic family service agencies across the Greater Toronto Area hope to be that safe haven for people. All five agencies in the Archdiocese of Toronto host walk-in clinic hours that provide immediate counselling services to more than 22,000 people every year. 

Catholic Family Services of Peel-Dufferin has seen a spike in walk-in clients since the new year. Executive director Sharon Mayne Devine said the walk-in clinic received an average of about 25 people a week in 2017. But since January, the clinic has averaged about 45 people per week. 

“About the last 10 weeks, our numbers have almost doubled,” said Mayne Devine. “We’re seeing more couples come in for our service, so that’s a very good thing. We’ve been doing outreach in our community... and word of mouth is probably our number one way that people hear about our services.”

At CFS Peel-Dufferin, Mayne Devine said most of the clients live at or below the poverty line and would not be able to afford counselling services. The agency offers the first three walk-in sessions free and consecutive sessions would be offered at a sliding-scale fee that the client can afford. 

This client intake model allows the agency to open its doors to more people in the Brampton and Mississauga areas. 

“I can’t emphasize this enough, but we would not be able to even run this walk-in clinic if not for ShareLife,” said Mayne Devine. “ShareLife is the only source of our funding for our walk-in counselling clinics.”

ShareLife is the official annual charitable appeal of the Archdiocese of Toronto. The organization raises money to fund “a family of Catholic agencies” that address a variety of needs in the archdiocese. This year’s fundraising goal is $13.6 million and the first of three collection weekends is March 17-18.

Last year, ShareLife allocated more than $4 million (27 per cent of annual funds) to family service agencies. For the five Catholic family service agencies — Peel-Dufferin, Durham, York Region, Simcoe County and Toronto — this means they can dedicate specific hours for walk-in counselling. 

“All of the five Catholic family services do it a bit differently. For us, we use our walk-in as our intake model,” said Elizabeth Pierce, executive director of CFS Durham. “When you come to our walk-in, you are screened to make sure we are the right service for them…. Everybody who walks in to our organization can get helped whether they get a single session of therapy or not.”

Pierce said oftentimes clients are recommended to their agency to ask for help and information. When they come in for a walk-in session, a counsellor can help the client identify their counselling needs. 

CFS Durham offers support for those experiencing grief and loss, managing transitional changes, struggling with addiction, overcoming abuse and many other sources of depression and anxiety. If the agency does not have a program that meets the client’s needs, counsellors can connect walk-in clients to other specialized services in their area. 

“A woman was struggling so much with her mental illness that she needed primary mental health care support first, so we provided her with all the information she needed,” said Pierce. “She left in happy tears because she didn’t know where to go, but because she came to us, she felt helped. That’s an example of someone who came into our walk-in and even though she didn’t get a session, she got helped.”

Shereen McFarlane, program manager of CFS Toronto’s North office, said counsellors measure the success of a walk-in by measuring how much hope a client gains after a session. Before and after a session, clients fill out a survey in which they identify what they are feeling and how satisfied they are with the service. 

“What we’re trying to do with walk-ins is to make sure that one session, that single session that they come in for is just as deep and therapeutic as if they were to come in for an ongoing session,” said McFarlane. 

Denis Costello, executive director of CFS Toronto, said for about 75 per cent of clients who come for a walk-in, one session is all they need. For example, married couples often take advantage of this service to address a point of conflict in their relationship. 

“Catching couples in the first couple of fights early on in the marriage can set them up and make an incredible difference,” said Costello. “You set people on a good path and remind them of what’s good in the relationship.”

All five agencies charge for their services at a sliding scale, according to what the client can afford. Fees could range from $2 a session to $65 a session. They are able to do this, Costello said, because ShareLife is able to subsidize the agencies operational costs. 

“We ask people to invest in their own mental health, so we make the fee affordable so the fee does not become a barrier,” said Costello. “But for every dollar we get from ShareLife, we are able to score a dollar somewhere else.”

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