This is a guest blog from one of the winners of the 2019 Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service (QAVS) – it focuses on the PF Counselling Service, written by Director, Alison Hampton.
PF Counselling Services, which has been established for over 30 years, is a professional, caring, COSCA-recognised organisation which plays an important part in the delivery of mental health services and talking therapies in Edinburgh.
We offer over 12,000 sessions of counselling/psychotherapy to the people of the city every year, helping adults of all ages with the emotional and psychological issues that can affect any of us – depression, anxiety, relationships, grief, trauma, and abuse, to name but a few. Our clients come from all walks of life, and each individual matters to us. However, one-to-one counselling also has a wider impact: on families, communities and, collectively, on society as a whole. As the individual grows and develops, they become able to engage in a wide range of rewarding experiences including volunteering – which we know is good for mental wellbeing – and employment. It is deeply satisfying to see previously distressed, sometimes barely functioning, clients leave having resolved their issues, regained their health, and found purpose, meaning and a real joy in life again.
All our counsellors are volunteers… [and] being a counsellor takes an extraordinary and unusual amount of dedication and commitment for a volunteer.
All our counsellors are volunteers. They all have a professional qualification, or they come to us for the placement experience necessary to get that qualification, which typically takes three or more years to achieve and is usually self-funded. So from the start they are demonstrating their commitment to this important, compassionate area of voluntary work.
But being a counsellor takes an extraordinary and unusual amount of dedication and commitment for a volunteer. The weekly one-hour sessions can act as rocks of stability and support amongst the challenges of a client’s life, and can go on for up to two years at the PF. This means that our volunteers have to be consistent and reliable, as well as conscientious and thoughtful. Most of our counsellors have at least three clients a week (some 6-8 or more), and will spend further hours in clinical supervision, training, reading, research etc. The PF currently has 105 counsellors, most of whom have been with us for at least 3 years, and some for over 20 years, again demonstrating their amazing commitment.
Counsellors are not our only volunteers. We also have a team of people who provide reception cover for us on a voluntary basis. They provide the all-important first point of contact for our clients and the public, spending at least three hours a week using office and interpersonal skills as an essential part of our admin team. Receptionists join us for many different reasons – young people for invaluable work experience, older people who are retired but still with so much to offer, returners as a stepping stone back into paid work, and others who just want to make a contribution and value the ‘sense of belonging’ that the PF can offer.
We had no doubt that all of our people deserve the award, because every day we see and hear the many ways in which helping our clients demands not just their time and attention, but also their care, empathy and, indeed, love.
So when we were nominated for the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service we were, of course, thrilled and delighted. We had no doubt that all of our people deserve the award, because every day we see and hear the many ways in which helping our clients demands not just their time and attention, but also their care, empathy and, indeed, love.
We are going to make the most of this award. We have already put the logo on our paperwork and on our website, and put the certificate up in our building, to let everyone know that our volunteers have been recognised by the Queen for what they do. It will enhance our reputation and will help us recruit more dedicated volunteers. We are sure it will also help secure our funding in the years ahead: not just by impressing the NHS, who give us a significant contribution every year, but by letting our clients see what a quality service we are. As 70% of our income comes from client donations, that’s vital to us!
It matters so much that the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service is there for voluntary organisations across the country. It touches and recognises volunteers in a way that is universal, prestigious, and independent of any politics, service silos or fashions. It is a lasting tribute which lifts current volunteers and will hopefully inspire more in the future.
You can view more news about the Queen’s Awards for Voluntary Service and the other winners’ blogs here.