“[Counselling has] helped me to explore my feelings in a non-judgmental way. I’m more happy in myself. I’m able to deal with things in a more controlled, measured response rather than react and be overwhelmed by things/people. I have put boundaries in place that were not there. I meet my needs rather than let people walk over me.”

Between June 2020 and April 2022, we facilitated over 650 individual counselling sessions for people with learning difficulties and/or autism in bemix.

Funded by the Kent Community Foundation and the Social Enterprise Support Fund, the project enabled us to provide a supportive placement for 5 student counsellors (all 5 have now qualified and are working as qualified counsellors).

Throughout the project, 30 people accessed the counselling, choosing the number of sessions they wanted within the limitations of the timescale of the project. Giving people as much choice as possible about the location and duration of their counselling was an important factor in the success of the project.

"If we could only have 6 sessions and that's it, you hold back on what you're saying. 6, or even 4 sessions, aren't very much. What if you have a bad week? [with fewer sessions] I would be thinking I shouldn't say what I wanted as the sessions might end soon. [With counselling through bemix], I didn't have to hold back on what I was saying because it was a year long.  Although my counsellor had to leave - it was nice not to have a limit on time. I didn't want to be referred to someone new, that would have been extra stress to talk about everything again.”

Frustratingly, the lack of funding to extend the counselling provision meant that people did not have complete choice and control about how long to continue their counselling.

“Having the control with my therapist [has been important]. I don't cope with changes so it's nice that if we did have a break that I could see her again. This gives me some control. My problems fluctuate - can be fine for months then take a nosedive. Every time you have a crisis you have to go to the bottom rung again [in mental health services]. You can't be dormant [to access ongoing support]”.

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. In the early development stages of the project, we 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”

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.

Throughout the project, we regularly sought anonymous 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.

“She's got to know me and what I wanted out of the counselling.  I asked her to be direct with me.  Once I said this, we worked so much better together”

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 use techniques and coping skills”

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

“We talked a lot. I talked about what was in my head.  We worked together very well. I was worried about getting the words right - these were my worries that I would say them wrong.  She has special needs like me, she understands me more so knew more about it.”

A great placement

We wanted our counselling placements to be valuable development opportunities for trainee and qualified 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 covered 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 

For the project, we joined the National Counselling Society (NCS).  This meant we were part of a wider community of counselling professionals and organisations.  We worked within the NCS Code of Ethics.  This means we make sure all our counsellors were properly trained and supervised. 

It has been a privilege to work alongside our counsellors as they have developed their skills, experience and qualified as professional counsellors.

At bemix, ‘health and safety’ is one of our Wider Values. It means that protecting people’s physical, mental and emotional wellbeing is essential. It means that we work in a way that protects people’s independence and choice, and encourages shared responsibility for health and safety. Like all bemix values, this value is central to our counselling work - when developing the project, recruiting counsellors through co-production and during our counselling sessions. We believe that, by applying our bemix values - both our EPIC Values and our Wider Values - to the work we do, we can achieve our Vision. Our vision is about wanting to live in a world where we are all valued as individuals. In an ideal world, people with learning difficulties and autism would be fully and equally involved in all areas of society - including within counselling and other areas of support focussed on mental and emotional wellbeing.

Read more stories about past wellbeing projects at bemix, visit our latest Good News Stories.