Interview with Mary Lavelle, Insight Counselling Centre

In 2002, Fighting Blindness established the Insight Counselling Centre to offer emotional support, information and practical help to people affected by sight loss.

Insight provides short-term crisis counselling, long-term psychotherapy, couples and family therapy, support group meetings, and assistive technology support, as well as weekly services at the Royal Victoria Eye and Ear and Mater Hospitals in Dublin.

The centre acts as a safe place to explore matters of concern, and help in finding a way through what can be a difficult and frightening time. Sight loss affects individuals and their families in different ways, and reaching out for support in these circumstances can be very beneficial.

Image of Mary LavelleThe following is part of a recent interview with Mary Lavelle, Senior Counselling Psychologist at the Insight Counselling Centre from the time it opened in 2002, until April 2014. The full interview can be found on the Support section of our website.

How would you describe counselling?

Counselling creates a space to explore whatever concerns someone might have, where they can talk freely without any danger that they might hurt or upset the other person.

The counsellor can help provide a different perspective that may help a person feel better, feel more in control, or that they have gained some kind of skills to help them live their life in a way that they want to.

How would you describe the type of therapy offered at the Insight Counselling Centre?

I am a person-centred, non-directive therapist; I don’t direct people specifically to go and do something. It centres on a belief that the individual knows best for themselves what they need to do. My role involves encouraging the person to look at things in a different way, allowing people to come to their own insight into how they might best deal with whatever their situation happens to be.

What types of counselling sessions are offered at the Insight Counselling Centre?

We offer individual, couple and family counselling, as well as monthly support groups and weekly technology support groups.

Family Counselling Sessions:

Family sessions can vary, depending on whether the family are all adults or whether they are children and parents. The concept for it all is very similar. If you have three or four people in a room, the main thing is to be respectful of each person’s position and to balance it as much as possible, so that when the family group are leaving, they all feel they have had the chance to say what they wanted to say. That is the responsibility of the therapist: to ensure that each person felt they were heard and listened to.

Couples Counselling Sessions:

The same rule applies for couples counselling: It is important that each partner in the relationship feels like they have equal say, and that the session is balanced. Sometimes if I am seeing one person in a partnership, there might come a time where I suggest bringing their partner in for a session. This is very different from couples therapy. In this situation the individual is still the client, and the partner is coming in for a specific purpose. If it became evident that on-going partnership counselling was needed, then the couple would be referred to another therapist, because I would have built up a relationship with one partner on a one-to-one basis and the other partner may feel unbalanced. It would be hard to get a clear view of what is going on in the relationship.

Support Groups

In support groups, the individuals support each other, while the therapist facilitates and makes sure nobody is dominating the session. The session is about people offering their own experience to someone else, as opposed to telling them what to do. It’s about saying, “I did this and found it very helpful”, as opposed to saying, “You should do this”.

Support groups also help people to interact. Some people find that difficult, so it encourages people to speak up, interact comfortably with their peers, and take time when they need time.

I don’t have a theme for each session or start with a question or anything like that. I leave it open. It works best that way; people can talk about whatever they want. Most people are interested in what somebody else has to say. People usually have things that they want to talk about or share with other people.

Exchange Club

The Exchange Club meets every Monday morning to discuss different technologies and how to get the best out of them. Computers and technology change very quickly, and the group help each other and share their experiences using equipment such as mobile phones, computers, etc. Accessible technology is incredibly useful and makes things like communication so much easier. The club is also another social support for people.

Do you find that a lot of people come following a diagnosis?

Quite a number of people would come in then. Parents of children who have been diagnosed often ring to find out what the setup is, but they might not come in for counselling. A lot of people who come in are adults, but not necessarily just following a diagnosis. It depends when they have received the diagnosis, as in at what stage of their lives. They might know about their condition from their early teens, but because of the nature of some conditions, such as RP, it doesn’t impact really until maybe late 20s or early 30s. That’s when it becomes more noticeable, but also it happens to be at a time in life when they might be in relationships or looking at careers, and their sight loss has more of an impact.

How long do people usually attend counselling for?

We don’t put a limit on how many sessions people have; the person makes the decision if or when they want to stop. Generally, people who call looking for information, understanding about their sight problem or about the services that are available might only come for two or three sessions, and they get what they want from that.

Other people may attend for a much longer period because they bring in life issues that have been impacted because of a sight condition. At the end of the day, people who are visually impaired have all the same issues as people who are fully sighted: relationship issues, work and career issues, anxiety problems, or any other issues that people have. Sometimes, because they have a visual impairment, these can be complicated or exacerbated.

The focus in the centre is not totally concentrated on sight loss issues. We deal with the whole person; the sight issue is only a part of that. It’s about what’s going on in a person’s life, full stop, as opposed to what’s going on with their sight loss. That is one of the mainstays of my philosophy around sight loss: It is only part of who we are, how we manage that is up to us.

The Insight Counselling Centre is located at 4 South Great George’s Street. Dublin 2. For more information go to the Support section of our website or contact Insight at 01 674 6496 or