BACP’s policy team is meeting politicians in Northern Ireland to continue to press the case for counselling in transforming later-life wellbeing for older people.

Steve Mulligan, our four nations policy and engagement lead, and Jeremy Bacon, BACP’s older people’s lead, are in Belfast today to discuss how counselling changes lives.

They are meeting the DUP’s Paula Bradley, and Jeremy says they will present the findings of discussions with BACP members about the role of counselling in supporting older people in Northern Ireland.

Influential voices

He said: “In response to evidence of mental health inequalities for older people, BACP is working to increase the understanding of perceptions and efficacy of counselling for older people and calling for increased access and choice of therapy for those aged 50 and over.

“We are keen to build a network of supportive and influential voices to help us fight for increased access for older people.”

Our discussions with members found that barriers faced by older people in accessing therapy in Northern Ireland ranged from inconsistency in referral from GPs to difficulties with mobility and access to transport, from an over-reliance on medication for common mental health problems to the fear of the unknown.

Enabling factors in some areas of Northern Ireland include counselling services being located in GP practices, increased funding for counselling services to ensure cost is not inhibitive for people on low incomes and awareness of the availability of counselling by agencies and private practice.

Effective interventions

Steve said: “Evidence shows that counselling changes lives.

“Delivered by trained and qualified therapists, counselling provides opportunities for people to reflect upon painful issues and concerns that impact daily life.

“Review of research has indicated that counselling and psychotherapy are effective interventions for older people experiencing psychological distress, particularly anxiety and depression, with outcomes being equivalent to that of younger people.”

Meanwhile, Paula Bradley is among the leading Northern Ireland politicians to support calls by the Participation and the Practice of Rights’ (PPR) #123GP campaign for increased funding and provision of GP practice-based counselling in Northern Ireland.

BACP joined service users, charities and GPs at Stormont earlier this year for the launch of the campaign’s report entitled ‘Counselling – a vital tool in equipping GPs with mental health expertise’.

A letter signed by all parties has been sent to Richard Pengelly, the permanent secretary of the Department of Health, calling on him to take action to ensure everyone who requires counselling in primary care services can access it in a timely and appropriate manner.

The letter has also been signed by Orlaithi Flynn  (Sinn Fein), Pat Catney (SDLP), Robbie Butler (UUP) and Stephen Agnew (Green Party).

Sara Boyce, of the PPR, said: “Together we can ensure that everyone who needs it can obtain counselling in an accessible and timely manner.”