Pivot Point spoke to two of ACON’s substance support counsellors, Ann Marie and Siobhan, to understand what ACON’s Substance Support Service is, and what happens at a substance support counselling session. Ann Marie and Siobhan also spoke to us about other forms of substance support and finding what’s right for you.
What is ACON’s Substance Support Service?
ACON’s substance support team are highly skilled, qualified clinicians who are either LGBTQ community members or allies. The Substance Support Service offers free short-term counselling for sexuality and gender diverse people and people with HIV who are seeking support in relation to their substance use. Counselling can be delivered in person, via telephone or video link making it accessible to anyone throughout Sydney and NSW. The substance support team has an understanding of the role substances can play in LGBTQ individuals’ lives and the context substances are used within our communities such as use for hook ups or managing isolation.
How does substance support counselling help?
Counselling is a collaborative process. As the client, it is designed to serve you and your needs. It’s a relationship and a space and time for you to conduct conversations that help you determine what your needs are, set goals for you to achieve the kind of life you want to be living, and figure out practical ways for you to achieve those goals. It also provides a space to talk about your unique individual experiences in relation to your substance use that may (or may not!) include aspects of your sexuality or gender identity.
Your counsellor is someone you need to feel safe with to disclose and talk about all aspects of who you are. At ACON, we take your confidentiality and privacy very seriously. Everything discussed within a session is between you and your counsellor unless you consent otherwise. Ask your counsellor about their experience and knowledge of LGBTQ community members. Remember also that not every counsellor is going to be a good fit for every client. If you don’t feel safe and comfortable with your counsellor, it’s OK to try someone else until you find the person you feel most gets you.
What happens in a counselling session?
Each session is different. In your first few sessions it’s usually about the counsellor getting to know you and what you hope to gain from the process of counselling, as well as a chance for you to build rapport with the counsellor and see if it’s the right fit for you. Your counsellor might want to get a life history from you early on, including your history of substance use. Sessions might focus on goals, for example, a goal to limit use of alcohol and or drugs and how that might be achieved using specific and detailed planning of the days ahead.
You and your counsellor might find yourself talking about issues other than your substance use – relationships, work, family dynamics, sexuality, moods, gender identity, sleep, your physical health – and how they impact you, your state of mind and perhaps contribute to harmful drug and or alcohol use.
You and your counsellor will probably work on developing skills to deal with cravings and urges to use, as well as skills that help manage common mental health symptoms like depression and anxiety. Your counsellor might suggest activities and work to undertake outside the counselling sessions if appropriate.
Your counsellor should always be using evidence-based approaches to counselling and therapy and evidence-based resources. Sometimes, and only with your consent, your counsellor might want to check in with other clinicians – your GP or any other clinicians or services you use – in order to make sure that everyone is one the same page with you and working with you towards the same goals.
Sometimes it might be appropriate for you to bring a friend, partner, spouse or family member to a session – but only if you want that to happen.
Counselling sessions usually run for 50-60mins. They are confidential. They can be face to or online via a video conferencing platform or over the telephone. Usually they occur weekly, but the schedule is something that will be worked out between you and the counsellor.
If you would like support in relation to your substance use, ACON’s substance support service can help. For intake, call (02) 9206 2000, or submit an enquiry. Not sure if you need support? Try our self-assessment tool, read more about different options for support, or information about reducing or quitting.