By Patricia Jones, CEO, Catholic Family Service

I have to be honest with you.

I struggle to find the right words to tell you how important we think it is for you to access compassionate, inviting and high caliber counselling no matter who you are, where you come from, what you have been through, who you choose to love or where you choose to pray.

Counselling is a concept that everyone knows and understands at some level. We all talk about other people going to counselling, often in a routine manner – we place it up there with picking up milk and getting our oil changed. Until we ourselves need to pick up that phone and ask for help. Then it is very, very different.

We can’t always keep the ground from shaking. Sometimes we have who and what we need to get through tough times. Sometimes we muddle through but not very well. Sometimes we run straight into a brick wall and getting help becomes urgent and immediate. If you have had to wait when you need this kind of help, you know how agonizing it can be.

When people call us for counselling, we often hear that they are feeling scared and very tired. Tired because they called other places and were told “we don’t do that” or “we don’t have that.” If reaching out for counselling feels complicated, we not only become part of the problem but also one more piece of wreckage in a world that already feels out of control. We have to get it right when someone calls because empathy and understanding reduces shame. Complications and waiting lists increase shame. It is not acceptable to us that the outcome of asking for help is fatigue, confusion and frustration.

These are some of the worries or concerns people call us about:

  • Is what my teenager doing normal?
  • I can’t seem to get out of bed.
  • I just found out my spouse had an affair and is leaving me.
  • I am addicted to fentanyl.
  • I’ve lost my job.
  • I am new to Canada and don’t understand why my kids are acting the way they are.
  • I was abused as a child and it’s impacting my relationship.
  • My husband hit me and I hit my husband.
  • I want to kill myself.

These concerns are diverse and pretty serious. Surprisingly enough, the concerns themselves are less the issue – people call because the particular “concern” is impacting their lives and their family. Counselling in its simplest form is supporting people to manage their relationships with their family, friends and community in a healthy way. And we know that strengthening families through counselling is considerably cheaper than locking people up or putting them in the hospital.

If you are fortunate enough to have an employee benefit plan, you can afford counselling for a period of time but even those plans have limits. Imagine how much worse it is for those who don’t have a plan or the money for a counselling session. Not getting help can have grave and potentially life-altering consequences. For example, the second leading cause of death for youth between age 10 and 24 is suicide.

Catholic Family Service has been offering counselling in the community for 60 years. In that time, we have gathered some wisdom about how to treat people. For us, the “how” of counselling is as critical as the counselling itself. We know what doesn’t help when someone chooses to phone us: getting an answering machine, being put on a waiting list or feeling treated like a number.

Our “how” is our promise to treat you with reverence and to find a way to say yes to you.

To us, yes means:

  • There will be a fellow human being on the other end of the line who has all the time in the world to talk.
  • We will offer you an experience of healing, not a product to sell.
  • We will make getting help as simple as possible.
  • We will not keep you waiting and we will call you back quickly.
  • We will demystify counselling with you.
  • We will customize your counselling experience, by offering options such as our web-based resources, talking on the phone, inviting you to our office, going to your house or connecting through technology.
  • We will ask you to pay what you can so you can still cover your mortgage and feed your kids.
  • The bottom line is: We care about you and we want to make sure that you feel seen, heard and valued.

I have two messages to leave you with:

  • A truly respectful human-to-human connection and saying yes is the magic of what we do.
  • We will not offer service to the community that is not steeped with respect and humanity and relationship. We just won’t.

Our Affordable Counselling Program was the foundation of this agency when it was created 60 years ago. It just happens to have been my first job here 24 years ago. It is our promise to ensure that all Calgarians can access the counselling they can afford when they need it, how they need it and where they need it.

Because asking for help is not a weakness. In fact, it is the most courageous thing any of us will do in our lives.

Catholic Family Service’s Affordable Counselling Program helps people deal with a full range of life events from coping with daily pressures – like job loss or relationship problems – to addressing mental health issues and breaking intergenerational cycles of abuse. If you are feeling confused, overwhelmed or uncertain, we can help you. Reach out to our Engagement Team at 403-233-2360 or by email at