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Applying that personal touch

Volunteer counselors help their peers to cope with maneuvering life’s challenges.

August 19, 2009|By Maane Khatchatourian

Pat Chase was a participant in the senior writing program at VMHCare in Glendale when she heard about the mental health facility’s adult peer counseling program. Driven by her desire to help others in need, she decided to apply as a volunteer.

Four years have passed and Chase said she still thinks about that fateful day and how the decision she made improved not only her life, but the lives of the clients she has interacted with over the years.

Chase recalled a client who was losing her confidence to drive. She helped the client overcome her fear by encouraging her to take small steps, to first enter the car and in time, drive around the block.

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“She eventually began to drive again,” Chase said. “She became more independent, assertive, less anxious and was able to live for herself, therefore bettering her relationship with her children and husband.”

Formerly a senior peer counseling program at Glendale Memorial Hospital, it is now a peer counseling program for adults 25 or older at the recently renovated VMHCare clinic on Colorado Street. Because the program is run by volunteers, it will remain unaffected by the budget cuts that are threatening other services offered at the facility, said Myrna Samuels, resident clinical psychologist.

The 24-year-old peer program provides therapy for adults, mostly senior citizens, dealing with depression, anxiety, retirement, loneliness, relationship problems, health concerns, loss and bereavement, Samuels said.

The program’s volunteers have to go through a lengthy screening process and three-month, 50-hour, training program before they are chosen as peer counselors, she said. They also receive ongoing education and must attend at least one of the two supervision sessions offered weekly.

During these supervisions the volunteers brief their fellow counselors and the two resident clinical psychologists, Samuels and Stan Pavey, about their client meetings. The licensed therapists offer professional insight about how to make further progress with clients during future sessions, Samuels said.

Although some clients pay $10 to $15 per 50-minute session, most receive free counseling services, Samuels said. No one is turned away for lack of funds, she added .

“We provide high-quality counseling at little or no fee,” Samuels said. “We have many counselors volunteering their time, so it costs little to provide a large service.”

Additionally, Samuels said the program is meant to enhance the quality of people’s lives.

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