Lack of funding, the ACC system and workforce capacity are all barriers to victims of sexual abuse accessing therapy, say those working in the area.
Kathryn McPhillips, Executive Director of HELP Auckland, says that funding is the biggest challenge to offering face to face counselling. “We need to fundraise about half a million dollars a year just to keep our service going at its current size, but the demand for that service is just overwhelming so we keep needing to close our waitlist. We can easily have 100, 150 people on our waitlist if we don’t close, and they could be waiting months and months for service.”
McPhillips also highlights how many victims face financial barriers to accessing counselling services. ACC currently covers the cost of counselling for victims of sexual abuse, however there are limitations within this system. Migrants who experienced sexual abuse overseas may be ineligible for funded counselling, and the nature of the system may not be suitable for children and teenagers.
While waiting to access face to face support, victims are still able to access crisis support from a range of organisations over the telephone. However, this isn’t ideal in the long-term for sexual abuse victims, says Joanna Madsen, Youthline Auckland Counselling Services Manager. “It’s really important that we have a safe space where they can open up, but in a more long-term relationship where they can process their trauma, because it can be retriggering if you’re just saying your story to someone you don’t know, and they don’t know you as well as a long-term therapist does.”
Workforce capacity issues also play a role in the difficulty some are experiencing in accessing counselling services. McPhillips says that not enough people in New Zealand are trained and able to do this work, and Madsen highlights how the long-term nature of therapy for sexual abuse means that counsellors are often fully booked for a long time. “There is a limited amount of people in the market, and there are a lot of waitlists…we’ve declined a lot of clients because we just don’t have the therapists, because its easy for a sexual violence therapist to get filled up because it is long-term,” says Madsen.
Barriers to accessing counselling may also be cultural and personal. Many of the misconceptions around what counselling is like may prevent people from reaching out, says McPhillips. People may expect that they have to talk about their sexual abuse straight away, and while some details may need to be discussed initially for ACC purposes, the main initial focus is on creating a sense of stability.
These concerns are something Anna*, a postgraduate student at the University of Auckland, also had in her mind when she first thought about accessing counselling. “Taking the first step and reaching out is the hardest, but once you’re actually talking to someone there is so much relief,” Anna says.
“Unfortunately I had to contact about six different places to find a counsellor that was free, and I have to go all the way to Albany from where I live in Grafton to get counselling. It is worth it but it is definitely hard to find someone. It’s not really great when it’s quite daunting to reach out, and then when you do it feels like it’s another challenge.”
The University of Auckland Student Health and Counselling Service offers a range of short-term counselling services and can provide referrals when long-term support is needed. For those in need of immediate crisis support, the helpline Safe to Talk is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week on 0800 044 334.