March 24, 2023

Avondale and ADRA Bring Affordable Counseling to Community

Collaboration initiative is supporting people’s mental health around the university.

Brenton Stacey, Adventist Record
Lana Hibbard (left), from the Well-Being Centre at Avondale University in Australia, and counseling students like Sophie Carver began offering sessions to members of the community at the Morisset ADRA Op Shop on March 1. [Photo: Brenton Stacey]

A collaboration between Avondale University and one of the largest thrift shops in Australia, run by the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA), is bringing affordable counseling to the local community.

One-hour sessions have been offered by qualified counselors and supervised final-year counseling students at the Morisset ADRA Op Shop on Mondays and Wednesdays since March 1.

“After working extensively with the community, one of the largest needs we’ve identified is mental health,” thrift shop manager Paul Rankin said. “So, we think offering counseling at an affordable rate will help.”

Counseling coordinator Lana Hibbard says getting access to a practitioner in the local area is difficult. “Even if you have a mental health care plan from a general practitioner, you’re often waiting a long time to see a psychologist.” And it is usually expensive. So, ADRA Counseling Morisset clients pay for only what they can afford according to their income, with sessions ranging from AU$30 to $100 (around US$20 to $67).

Sophie Carver is one of the counseling students. Completing her first placement in her final year, she explained, “I want to start putting my skills to use, but I’m aware this means dealing with real-life issues. That’s a big responsibility,” Carver said. 

As an off-campus student during the COVID-19 lockdowns and a caregiver for a family member with a severe mental illness, Carver experienced feelings of isolation and loneliness “but couldn’t afford to see a counselor.” She contacted the Well-being Centre at Avondale, which offers a free service to staff members and students — and where Hibbard is the lead clinical counselor. That helped, as did meeting other students in her class at a couple of on-campus intensives this past year. “Because I work from home as well, my whole world is at home, so I looked forward to coming for weeks.”

The Graduate Diploma in Counselling will be Carver’s third degree — she has others in elementary school teaching and in special education. “It feels like a natural progression,” particularly for “a quieter person who prefers one-on-one interaction,” she said. Carver found the classroom challenging but enjoyed connecting individually with students, their parents, and their teachers in a part-time chaplaincy role.

The placement at ADRA Counselling Morisset will help Carver and other students “grow in confidence as they listen to their clients and draw on what they’ve read in textbooks and learned from case studies,” Hibbard said. “Their lecturers and clinical supervisors tell them, and I tell them, ‘Trust the process.’ ”

As the number of clients increases, ADRA Counselling Morisset plans to expand so it can continue to meet community needs. And while “no one gets turned away,” clients who want to address issues related to domestic violence, drug or alcohol addiction, or specialized mental health conditions, or who need diagnosis, will be referred to specialist services.

The Morisset ADRA Op Shop donates proceeds for the benefit of the local community. And as the largest aligned with ADRA in Australia, it is staffed by 150 volunteers, all of whom have access to counseling at a subsidized rate. “The impact we have, just in store, is incredible,” Rankin said. “One of the volunteers said to me, ‘This is my safe place.’ She feels supported. That’s why we’re here.”

The original version of this story was posted by Adventist Record.