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Can telephone counselling help you?

For the last eight years, SIA has provided a free telephone counselling service. In the last financial year alone, the service provided 180 telephone counselling support sessions to SCI people and their families and friends. Helen Smith explains how this confidential talking therapy can support you at any stage of life post-injury.

I qualified as a clinical psychologist in 1989. I initially worked in brain injury and adult mental health, before joining the Stanmore SCI Centre on a part-time basis in 1998. I have provided psychological support to SCI people at the centre for the past 20 years and continue to do so.  I also started working with SIA in 2010 to launch the Telephone Counselling service. It is available to SCI people as well as their partners and family members.

Why do people use the service?

When people experience overwhelming feelings of stress, anxiety or depression, they know that they need additional support to help manage their current situation.

Most service users are not clinically depressed or mentally ill, but they are struggling on a day-to-day basis. The cause of their stress can be varied – financial worries, loss of employment, the impact of SCI on relationships, family issues, managing pain, anxiety attacks, isolation, etc.

What to expect

During the first call the client is reassured that the telephone session is confidential and that SIA stores all personal information in adherence with the General Data Protection Regulation. We currently offer each individual up to three sessions lasting 45 minutes each. This approach has worked well for those we’ve supported to date and helps to keep the waiting list down. There is no charge, but we ask for an evaluation at the end, which is anonymous and usually sent by email.

Initially, I will get the person’s background information – age, level of injury, if they are linked to an SCI Centre, etc. If they are not an outpatient of an SCI Centre, I encourage them to request a referral via their GP.

Once the main reason for support has been established, we focus on a particular area to be worked on, such as relaxation strategies, structuring the week to include activities that are more enjoyable and productive, possible pain management strategies, etc. If appropriate, I’ll also mention other SIA services that they might benefit from, or help offered by other organisations or online resources that they might want to read.

Quite often the people I speak to have little knowledge of the support that is available. There is a perception that you take antidepressants or do nothing. But there is so much more support available. So, this service is as much about educating people about the different sources of help they can access, as it is listening.

How it helps

The most common feedback we receive is that it’s good to talk to someone who understands SCI. A GP can refer someone for counselling but the counsellors almost never know anything about SCI. The significance of bladder and bowel issues are therefore not understood.

In general, counselling is about being listened to. Being understood has a beneficial effect on people, especially for those feeling very stressed and alone. The other benefit is being able to understand depression. It helps people to normalise it and understand that it’s a very common condition that can be managed.

Speaking in confidence

For most of us, there are things we would talk to family and friends about and there are things that we would prefer to discuss with a stranger. This is of particular importance for some of our clients due to their culture or where they live.



Consultant Clinical Psychologist

How to get in touch

Access SIA’s Telephone Counselling service via the Advice Line by either calling 0800 980 0501 or emailing [email protected]. The first session usually takes place within two-to-four weeks from making the initial enquiry. The sessions take place approximately fortnightly or monthly, but the service is flexible and there is no fixed structure. If you or someone you know would benefit from speaking to me about your concerns in confidence, get in touch today.