“... Once a mental health problem has been identified, it's important that

commissioners, service providers and staff offer inclusive services and support that

cater for the needs of people with autism or a learning disability (or both) who also have

a mental health problem.” -  (Mind.org)


Counselling in bemix

In June 2020, we set up a project to facilitate counselling for people with learning difficulties and/or autism in bemix.  Funded by the Kent Community Foundation and the Social Enterprise Support Fund and The National Lottery Community Fund, the project has enabled us to provide a supportive placement for 2 student counsellors, with a third being recruited in November.

If there is one thing we recommend for ensuring support and services are inclusive and meet people’s needs, it’s making sure that the development and delivery is co-produced.  We have been consulting with people with learning difficulties and/or autism, and counsellors, since 2018 to establish what people need and what works best.  A survey in 2018 identified 3 main barriers for people with learning difficulties and/or autism in accessing counselling:  The cost, travelling to sessions and not knowing how to do it. Grant funding has enabled us to address these barriers by providing free and adaptive counselling for people in bemix as part of the project.

“Being able to attend via Zoom to fit around my work schedule helps. My counsellor is also lovely and very approachable. Makes me feel in a safe space with no judgement.”

“The sessions are led by myself and [my counsellor] is very flexible with times and dates which makes me feel valued”

“My counsellor has been great so far. Just someone to offload to once a week which also provides routine.”

Between July and October 2020 we facilitated counselling for 10 people, with 80 sessions being provided.



Project development

We have made sure that our work recruiting counsellors to work with us has been co-produced.  Counselling tutors, qualified counsellors and people with a learning disability and/or autism have all been involved in shaping what we offer and recruiting student and qualified counsellors to the team. 

“It is really important that the counsellors want to learn how to work with people with disabilities and learn from us” - Nigel, bemix member and student counsellor interview panellist

We wanted to make sure that the counsellors are prepared and able to listen to us and understand what life is like for us. We want to be able to work with our counsellor as equals, being involved in making choices about our counselling and lives.

We regularly seek feedback from people having counselling, and the counsellors, to ensure we are providing counselling in a way that suits the needs and preferences of the people involved. We adopt a person-centred and pluralistic approach in our counselling which prioritises the preferences and aims of the person having counselling.

How has counselling helped?

“[Counselling] has allowed me the space to think about my decisions and how I may be putting additional pressures on myself and delve into some of the root causes of these”

“It is a challenging but positive experience”

“Counselling helps me talk about thing that I can’t talk about that home and it help with my mental health”

“Counselling helps me use techniques and coping skills”

A great placement

We want our counselling placements to be valuable, development opportunities for counsellors to learn more about working with people with learning difficulties and/or autism. Grant funding from the Kent Community Fund, Social Enterprise Support Fund and CareTech Foundation means we can cover student and volunteer counsellor expenses and enable valuable, co-produced training, support and collaboration opportunities.

It is important that people with learning difficulties and/or autism are not only able to access counselling when they need it, but are able to train and support counsellors to provide accessible counselling in an informed way. 

“It has been a great experience to be a part of the new counselling team. Bemix has offered me great support as part of the working team. Their ethos and ethics throughout, in particular the detail and vision they have for supporting mental health, is fantastic.” - Ally, student counsellor

 

Ally says, “There is a great need for more support with mental health. Giving people an outlet is so important and services such as this are difficult to come by.

I feel that allowing space for everyone is important in order to better understand ourselves and work through any issues which we may feel are holding us back from our true potential. Counselling is a service which offers this safe space and, for some, it is the first time this has been available to them. From my knowledge, there are few services which offer counselling specifically to people with learning difficulties and/or autism and it is important that there is a space held for them to work at their own pace. In line with the bemix ethos, every person has a right to be seen, be heard and belong and offering counselling to members runs parallel to this.”

“I absolutely love being on placement.  Being part of the bemix team is fantastic. Everyone is so supportive and I felt at ease instantly. I love the fact it’s a collaboration; everyone's opinion matters. I have an autistic son and what I have learned from [the team and] my clients has been valuable.” - Viv, student counsellor