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Pastoral care program a win-win

A university placement program, which gives counselling students valuable experience in pastoral care at a Victorian aged and disability care provider, is going from strength to strength.
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A university placement program, which gives counselling students valuable experience in pastoral care at a Victorian aged and disability care provider, is going from strength to strength.

Villa Maria was established as the Catholic Braille Writers Association in 1907, and since then pastoral care has been delivered to thousands of people, offering comfort and companionship, spiritual and emotional support and has helped to reconnect people with what gives life meaning and value.

In August 2011, eight students from the Australian College of Applied Psychology (ACAP) began undertaking placements as pastoral care workers with Villa Maria.

By the end of this month, 26 students will reportedly have completed their placements as pastoral care volunteers at Villa Maria supporting residents and their families at  its aged care residences, within the provider’s community services, such as White Road, and its education services.

Pastoral care coordinator, Maureen O’Sullivan, says the students are listening and talking to people regarding mostly grief and loss issues, relationship breakdowns, coping with going from being mobile to having a disability, and the fear, anxiety and frustration around a diagnosis of dementia.

“Through pastoral care they are able to widen their experience in listening skills, attentiveness, observation and reflecting - all basic skills in counselling.

“The students are very respectful, honouring the values and mission of our organisation, particularly our person centred approach. For Villa Maria, it is a fantastic opportunity as it means we are able to reach out to more people needing support,” she says.

Ms O’Sullivan (pictured with a Villa Maria client) will soon meet with disability services social worker, Jessica O’Sughrue, to discuss the possibility of pastoral care volunteers assisting her within the disability sector.

ACAP manager of student placements, Dee Mahon, says the opportunity with Villa Maria has so far been an “invaluable experience for counselling students”.

ACAP graduate, Kathy Edelman, agrees hands on experience has been “wonderful”.

“It’s been a terrific opportunity, and hopefully also for the people I’ve listened to. I think the program is fantastic because we’ve all got the existing training and are pretty eager to get out there, but it’s not easy to get a placement,” Ms Edelman says.

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