Nova Scotia

Halifax's only sexual assault centre requires more time to meet demand for service

After more than a month of turning away people needing therapy, Halifax's only sexual assault centre says it needs more time to get help to existing clients and bring its wait list down.

Avalon Sexual Assault Centre focusing efforts on current clients

Jackie Stevens is the executive director of the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre in Halifax. (Dave Laughlin/CBC)

After nearly six weeks of turning people away, the counselling wait list at Avalon Sexual Assault Centre will likely be closed for "the next couple of months."

Therapists need to see existing clients — some of whom have been waiting more than two years.

The non-profit organization has been struggling with the demand of a growing number of people seeking therapy in recent years. It announced on April 15 it would temporarily not add new names to a wait list of 112 people. 

Since the wait list closed, Avalon has completed intake sessions for everyone in the queue, and is in the process of providing consultations to place them into counselling services based on their needs, said Jackie Stevens, the group's executive director.

The centre offers trauma counselling that can take a year to complete. Grounding and mindfulness therapy can be about six months.

As therapists complete counselling with existing clients, they're able to begin seeing people on the wait lists.

Centre trying to reduce burnout on staff

But the period of time a person has been waiting for counselling isn't the only factor Avalon considers. Urgent or complex issues are also taken into account, said Stevens.

At the same time, the centre is trying to lessen "vicarious trauma and burnout" among staff — they're in the process of unionizing — by ensuring they have balanced case loads, and access to supervision and professional development, Stevens said.

Avalon is the only sexual assault centre in the Halifax area.

Stevens said Avalon is aiming to reopen its counselling wait list within the next couple of months. She will be providing an update to the health minister "in coming weeks once this current process is completed and we further determine immediate and longer-term needs."

She added the centre is reviewing the process it uses to move people through the wait lists.

Health Minister Randy Delorey said last week his department is waiting to hear what Avalon needs and "we can then move forward from there."

Stevens said the goal is "to ensure that survivors we are currently working with and who are waiting to access therapeutic counselling can complete those services." 

About the Author

Elizabeth Chiu is a reporter in Nova Scotia and hosts Atlantic Tonight on Saturdays at 7 p.m., 7:30 p.m. in Newfoundland. If you have a story idea for her, contact her at elizabeth.chiu@cbc.ca.