This Christmas a local counselling service is offering people the opportunity to gift wrap a less conventional present this year - counselling sessions.
In a bid to provide more services over the Christmas period, Willows Counselling Service have introduced a Wishing Tree scheme where people can donate money towards counselling sessions.
The tree, which was gifted by Willow's former diploma students, was initially implemented for service users to write comments on what they hope to gain from counselling or how the service has benefitted them. With a lack of funds and increase in service users Willows have initiated a donation scheme.
Willow's Counsellor and Training Manager, Denise Brent, said: "The hope behind it is that by putting wishes on the tree we can get people to back it by donating a wish.
"The money will go towards someone who can’t afford counselling fees - donating £10 would cover the cost of someone’s admin fee."
During the months of December and January Willows see an increase in referals from free mental health facilities which don’t have the staff to accommodate the increasing number of people using mental health services. As a charity Willows do not recieve statutory funding and rely on grants and monthly donors.
Tanya Orr, Willow's Executive Director, said: "As the need for the services has risen, the reasons have become more and more complex. And, because of staff shortages at statutory services we’re getting calls from all the mental health teams asking to send people here.
"Our counselling is by donation only, – it’s whatever people can afford – so we try and find other ways of subsidising sessions, particularly because Christmas can be such a difficult time for people so our referrals go up. But other people at Christmas like to give something – so we thought this would be a really good idea.
"The percentage of clients that are actually able to contribute is minimal because the thing that’s causing the problem is often stopping them from getting work or an education.
"The money is hugely hugely important but as a by-product a lot of the people who come here have no sense of value themselves, and no self-esteem, and if they get that people are literally buying a wish that is going to help them personally, not just as a charity, then that is going to help their self-esteem probably as much as counselling is. It shows people are cared about and valued, which is so important.
Denise added: "We hope it will help us further the resources we have now to help fund additional support – particularly at this time of year.
"So as a stand-alone effort for this particular festive period it’ll enable us to have a bit more in the bank to be able to give a bit more and make sure we can continue to subsidise these things so we don’t have to add to our waiting list as we wait for funds to come in.”
For further information about Willow's Wishing Tree visit www.facebook.com/WillowsSwindon/
For further information about Willows Counselling Services visit www.willows.btck.co.uk