Prince Albert non-profit aims to make counselling more accessible with walk-ins at library, schools

Prince Albert Catholic Family Services. – Kelly Skjerven/Daily Herald

A government-funded counselling program in Prince Albert is providing more accessible options for mental health support.

Catholic Family Services started offering counselling at the library in the summer. With new funding announced last month, the non-profit organization is working on placing a child and youth counsellor in schools.

“People are nervous about coming to counselling and it takes a lot of courage sometimes for people to take that first step,” said Executive Director Louise Zurowski.

“I say courage because that’s what it takes lots of the time, for people to say ‘I’ve got an addictions problem,’ ‘My marriage is falling apart.’”

This single-session, walk-in form of therapy, Zurowski described, is called rapid access counselling.

If the client is in need of further services, the rapid access counsellor can refer them as needed.

Kent Slemming sees clients at the library every Wednesday from 1:15 to 5 p.m. There’s a wide range of topics that Slemming offers possible solutions for, including trauma, grief, domestic violence, relationships, anxiety, and depression.

“Sometimes they are just needing that one session to sort of relieve some tension,” said Slemming.

“We’re not focusing so much on their past and what has happened necessarily in their past. We’re more trying to build up the tools and coping mechanisms to deal with what they’re feeling right now.”

As part of the program, Slemming also sees clients at YWCA Central and Our House.

The library sessions, though, are for everyone over the age of 10 – and in a more public building where there may be less fear of judgement.

“There are often times a lot of hesitancies in going to an actual office. First off, it makes it a lot more real, and that can be scary for some clients,” said Slemming.

“If you were to just go to a library and see ‘Oh, there’s counselling here’…those particular people are a lot more likely to attend a session.”

Last month, the provincial government announced $1.7 million in annual funding for Family Services Saskatchewan to expand the rapid access counselling program to include children and youth.

By the end of November, Zurowski said the organization is hoping to have a counsellor see students in schools, starting with the Catholic division. 

The counsellor would be available in schools three days a week, and in the office two days a week for referrals.

Without rapid access counselling, Zurowski said wait times are typically five to six weeks. Lots of times, she said, the issues at hand “have changed totally” in that time period.

Catholic Family Services also offers programs for assistance with employment, lessening barriers for women and life improvement for families, such as transportation, meals and babysitting.