A new national service provides free counselling to aged care residents, their families and facility staff via telephone of video calls.

The Telehealth Counselling and Support Service for Residential Aged Care has been developed by Swinburne University of Technology’s Wellbeing Clinic for Older Adults.

It was launched last Friday after a month-long trial in seven aged care facilities.

The service expands the face-to-face psychology and mental health services Swinburne’s Wellbeing Clinic for Older Adults has offered to aged care residents for 10 years.

Swinburne University of Technology Wellbeing Clinic for Older Adults co-director Professor Sunil Bhar said the service would provide emotional support to residents, their family members and aged care workers during the coronavirus pandemic.

Professor Sunil Bhar

“The aim of the service is to bring some comfort and counselling and support to people who might be affected by some of the restrictions imposed by COVID-19,” Professor Bhar told Australian Ageing Agenda.

The service also aims to assist residential aged care services in communities with difficulty accessing local services, he said.

“There are many facilities around Australia where it’s not so easy to send in a counsellor, psychologist or mental health nurse and we’re hoping to reach those communities where it may be more difficult to practice counselling,” Professor Bhar said.

The counselling service is delivered by postgraduate students of health, psychology, counselling and social work disciplines, Professor Bhar said.

The program also helps to train students to provide counselling services to aged care residents.

“As more and more people get trained to work effectively in this space, we’ll start to see an increased competency in the aged care field,” Professor Bhar said.

Australian Unity social worker Lloyd Grant welcomed the program.

It’s an important thing for residents to feel they can share some of their grievances and family often aren’t the type of people to do that,” Mr Grant told AAA. 

Lloyd Grant

Mr Grant, coordinator of Australian Unity’s Moments That Matter Clinic,  has referred four residents to Swinburne’s telehealth counselling service to date.

He said feedback from residents and their families members has been positive.

“It meets a need for residents, it gives them a bit of validation that maybe what they’re feeling is not necessarily just something that should be dealt with, but something that can be talked through.

“It may not be a major issue that they’re going to see a counsellor for, but the ability to share that story with someone that isn’t a family member, someone impartial, has a big impact,” said Mr Grant,

He said it was  rare to see a support service like this in aged care.

“Some families are over the moon that this service is free. It makes them feel like their parents are getting extra support that might not otherwise be provided,” Mr Grant said.

“They can meet with someone in their room rather than being sent out to a brick and mortar service facilitator, or a psychologist, which makes it much more accessible.”

Professor Bhar said the trial found that telehealth counselling worked best when aged care staff provided technical support.

Connections with residents during the trial were successful about 70 percent of the time, he said.

“We’ve learnt that we need to work hand-in-hand with the aged care staff so that we can connect effectively for the resident,” said. “We’re still in the early days, but we expect the uptake to be huge,” he said.

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  1. When is some focus going to be directed towards In Home Care? This service is equally as important as residential care, yet there appears to be no focus at all on how to improve services to this important client cohort.

  2. One of the challenges of providing (tele)counselling for my population of choice (older adults) is that I don’t have the backup of academia, finance, human and technical resources. It’s just ME. I have attempted to raise the need and value of counselling for older adults in any care setting through an article in the May issue of CCR, as well as targeted a host of aged care organisations. It’s difficult to be taken seriously as an individual. How can counsellors (as a sole trader) with a focus on older adults compete with the offering of a fee-free service either through Swinburne or through a PHN-commissioned service?

    It’s not that the service offering (counselling) is a rare service. Counselling or the support for the mental health of older people has not been well understood until more recently. There’s so little research in this area, certainly minimal in the area of counselling for older people living in community, from a counsellor’s perspective.

    Swinburne’s Sunil Bhar has certainly highlighted the need for counselling in aged care for some time. I hope a time will come when counsellor in aged care is a valid and recognised profession.

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