Bendigo Community Health Services is home to more than 50 services and 250 staff. Take a journey through our organisation to learn more about our services and programs by meeting some of our wonderful staff through our blog Discovering BCHS…
EVEN after a decade as a counsellor, Nicole Trench is still humbled by the privilege of having clients confide in her, sharing their most personal thoughts, feelings and stories.
“The intimacy of trusting and sharing and bearing witness to someone’s journey can be so amazing,” says the softly spoken confidante from Bendigo Community Health Services’ alcohol and other drugs team.
“Sometimes it can be as simple as something clicking with a client that causes a shift – a shift in thinking, a shift in behaviour, or a shift in their own belief system.
“And to witness that is quite powerful.”
Nicole works three days a week at BCHS in Eaglehawk, managing a case load of about 24 clients all trying to overcome issues related to substance abuse.
And while drugs or alcohol may be at the centre of their problems, they are often just one of many intertwining factors in the complex web of their lives.
That’s why Nicole and her co-workers adopt a holistic approach to their profession.
“We could be talking about clients with mental health issues, post-natal depression, anxiety, domestic violence, court orders, returning to work or study issues,” explains Nicole.
“We really cover all areas of life and functioning, and improving quality of life. I do a lot of work around improving physical health, through diet and exercise, as well as linking in with the mental health component.
“We work under the harm reduction model in terms of where the client is at with their substance abuse, and we look to reduce the problematic impact of their use.
“Predominantly, my role is to help people build toolboxes to help them cope.”
Nicole joined BCHS about two years ago, but has extensive counselling experience.
She studied the field after a brief stint living in Nepal and India during her 20s and started off volunteering for Wesley Mission’s Lifeline telephone counselling service in Melbourne.
She later secured a position with the Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre in Fitzroy, offering phone counselling, information and referrals via DirectLine, Gambler’s Helpline, and a family drug helpline.
Now based in Castlemaine, she recently reached 10 years of service with Turning Point and travels to Melbourne a couple of times a month on a casual basis to man the crisis phones.
Nicole sees the fall-out from the full range of substance abuse across central Victoria.
“There’s a real balance in the cases we see – alcohol, cannabis, party drugs, ice… but if anything, there are more alcohol issues walking through our doors.
“Yes, ice use has increased, though it has always been there and is not a new problem to us working in the industry. But the demographics of who it affects could surprise people.
“I’m seeing a lot of people in their mid-forties, and a lot of family people. And there are flow-on effects to those families through such substance abuse.”
Nicole is one of three alcohol and other drug counsellors based at BCHS sites.
She says community health services are incredibly valuable in providing struggling members of society with a safe, supportive, non-judgemental place to turn to in times of need.
“Possibly the worst thing that can happen in rural communities is stigma and isolation, so having community health centres set up to help avoid that is paramount, really.”
Nicole says helping heal damaged souls requires patience and understanding, but the most important part of her job is building strong relationships with clients.
“There must be rapport, connection and empathy before any real work can happen,” she says.
“That first connection is vital to the counselling work that unfolds. And you don’t know exactly how it’s going to unfold because every relationship is so unique.
“But building rapport, empathy and support is crucial to the whole process.”
Nicole uses a range of strategies to keep her grounded away from work. She loves to dance, watch live bands, spend time with family and friends, and practise yoga and meditation.
She has dabbled at various forms of art, but stresses she does not consider herself an artist.
“I have studied art therapy, so I do it for its own expression, not any other reason. That can be a range of things including drawing, pastels and paints.
“I have used art therapy at times in counselling sessions and some clients are definitely open to it and want to explore art as an expression.”
On weekends, Nicole is proud to call herself a soccer mum. Her elder son plays for Bendigo in the National Premier League and her younger boy takes the field with Castlemaine, so there’s plenty of driving to and from matches and cheering from the sidelines to be done.
“Both of them dream of becoming professional soccer players – and I love it.”
The family, including Nicole’s partner who runs his own landscape design business, moved to the Goldfields town three years ago seeking a return to the country life she grew up with around the Macedon Ranges district.
“We always wanted to move back to the country,” she says. “It was just about finding the right place that had a lot of art, music and culture.
“We definitely have it all in Castlemaine!”