Unique Alcohol and Other Drugs Counselling Service available free

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April 6, 2020

A unique counselling service is available to disadvantaged members of the community who have both alcohol and other drug issues and mental health concerns.

Normally, specialist counselling like this is only be available free of charge to people in rehabilitation.

The Haymarket Foundation’s AOD Counselling Service has another point of difference: the psychologist has the discretion to work with the client for the time needed. This is critical as people with co-occurring AOD and mental health conditions generally require more support than the 10 sessions in a typical mental health plan.

It is an approach paying dividends: the majority of clients completing treatment do not require a referral for further services.

Psychologist Carlos Duarte generally sees 95 clients in a year, the majority of whom are in recovery. Approximately half have issues with alcohol, slightly ahead of methamphetamine use. The third highest incidence is heroin, followed by cannabis, cocaine, gambling and MDMA/ecstasy.

His calm, non-directive humanist approach allows clients in individual psychotherapy to determine their own targets, how they are going to achieve those and what supports they might need.

In his 14 years in the role, he has seen changes in the drugs being used – with the trend towards ice overtaking heroin – and the way information is recorded and analysed.

“We know a lot more about our clients: the majority are young, straight men – but Aboriginal and LGBTIQA+ clients are disproportionately represented,” he says. “This gives us knowledge to improve services and report what we are finding.”

Recently, there’s been an increase in the number of women, many of whom are coming after completing rehabilitation. But clients can self-refer or be referred by their GP, case worker, social worker or nurse.

Around 5% of clients are Indigenous: and the service is ready to expand this commitment, having recently completed a program audit and training on how to be more ATSI-focused.

The feedback from clients is revealing. A box with anonymous responses has comments including: “The only psychologist I have continued with over a long period of time” and “The psychologist was very helpful and supportive. I felt listened to and respected.”

The Manager of Haymarket’s Alcohol and Other Drugs Program, Paul Tratt, says the program is the only one of its kind: “We know anxiety and depression are very common with any problem drug use, but unless you’re in rehabilitation, there is no specific counselling service available free of charge in the community.”

The service is free to disadvantaged people who have co-occurring AOD and mental health issues including people who are homeless, Indigenous, from culturally and linguistically diverse communities, those leaving custodial sentences, people who have experienced violence and those from gender and sexually diverse communities.

The Alcohol and Other Drugs Counselling Service is funded by Central and Eastern Primary Health Network and is free for clients. To find out more about the service please call (02) 9197 9741.

This story first appeared on page 15 of the Sydney Health issue published by the Central and Eastern PHN.