Working in a Greek family care centre

Stefania Papadaki on her route to counselling psychology work in Heraklion

I always wanted to be psychologist. I decided to study the subject at 17, maybe because it had only developed in Greece recently or perhaps I just wanted to ‘discover’ the mysteries of the human mind! I graduated from the psychology course at the National and Kapodistriako University of Athens, then moved to the UK to continue with my postgraduate studies. I took my two master’s degrees in Special and Inclusive Education and Counselling Psychology.

After returning to Greece, I applied for more challenging public service jobs. I was eventually employed in the Family Care Service of Heraklion, which is the capital of Crete and, as it happens, where I was born.

Working as a counselling psychologist in a public service of a small island can be both interesting and challenging. The Family Care Service is one of the very few psychological services available to families and children in the whole municipality. Government social sector budgets are sometimes low. Reduced staffing means there are not enough services to offer real help to people in need. For instance, my service consists of two counselling psychologists and a family counsellor who also supervises.

The Family Care Service of Heraklion offers parent counselling to more than 1200 families whose children are in the 14 public nurseries of the city. We can support anybody who asks for help, whether they are parents or not. Apart from psychological intervention and counselling, we offer child personality assessment: we use psychometric tools such as the ’Draw A Man Test’ and ‘Draw Your Family Test’. This is often the first and only time that parents have access to scientific advice regarding their children’s behaviour and the way they can manage difficulties.

We also organise primary school and nursery talks, to raise awareness of different issues, such as divorce, death in the family and ‘setting boundaries for children’. Parents really appreciate these. We often extend our activities beyond the city by visiting remote villages and local organisations, to talk to people who have never had the chance to ask for professional help.

We also organise short-period seminars for teaching staff (nursery nurses) to support them in their work. Seminars on issues such as management styles, human relations and organisational problem-solving are attended by nursery managers, so you could say we move out of the specific realm of counselling psychology into more occupational areas at times.

Meeting people from different social groups is the most interesting part of my job; these include unmarried mothers, unemployed parents, drug addicts, prisoners and gypsies. We offer basic guidelines for home life to these groups, who often have nowhere to turn to for parent counselling.

The Family Care Service also works with other psychological services and children institutions, so many cases can be referred to specialist advanced support. We deal with many different problems that children experience at school or at home: jealousy between siblings, aggression, anxiety and insecurity/shyness. This makes my job varied and challenging, as does the need to keep up to date with new psychological ideas and research.

But there are drawbacks to the job. I’m one of the two psychologists for the whole service, so there’s never enough time to do everything. I have to ration the number of sessions with some clients and the number of talks we can give in schools and nurseries because of time pressures. Shortage of assessment tools is a problem: we look for them in other services or universities.

Like many psychologists internationally, I’d like us to recruit more staff. I’d also like more specific training to be offered to psychologists that work with children: particularly undergraduate- and postgraduate-level training in child development and psychopathology. Counselling psychology is a neglected application in Greece, as there are no available courses in the local universities and institutions. That makes studying abroad an unavoidable necessity, as my experience shows. I’m sure this situation is not specific to Greece, and more international contact between counselling psychologists would, I believe, help all of us in our work.

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