According to Chief Executive Director of Calgary Counselling Centre Robbie Babins-Wagner, “every decision we make, we look at how it will affect the people walking through our doors.”
This deep connection to serving their clients’ needs first and foremost has led them to become the largest provider of community and research based mental health services in Southern Alberta, and the largest trainer of counsellors in Western Canada.
As a charitable organization, they base their practice around four pillars – counselling, training of counsellors, treating family violence and domestic abuse and providing an outreach to the community through depression screening. In addition to these pillars, the Centre wishes to make their counselling services available to a wide range of social and economic backgrounds. This is where their sliding scale pay system comes into view.
Babins-Wagner notes, “We offer service on a sliding scale based on gross family income…charging appropriate fees within certain income buckets and consulting with the client.” Essentially there is no separation between their charity and social enterprise; they are one and the same. The clients come into the Centre and receive professional and quality treatment but at a price that is custom to their needs and income bracket.
The fees then cover 50% of their operating budget, with the remaining amount received from grants and third party donations. “We have become less shy about charging market rates for our services,” says Babins-Wagner, “we provide just as good if not better treatment for our clients than a private practice because of our no size fits all approach to counselling and service rates…we need to be able to respond to a multiplicity of needs.”
The Centre is working on bringing that percentage up to 62% by 2017.
Their dedication to providing care and developing a therapeutic relationship with people has even at times left their office walls, “There was a woman in High River who had lost absolutely everything in the flooding and as a result became suicidal” tells Babins-Wagner, “we had a team member go to her within the hour of receiving the call.”
Tracking a client’s progress and assessing their needs, involves the client filling out a questionnaire at the beginning of each session. This information is then translated onto a graph which then visually represents whether the client is improving or declining as they receive treatment. This score also allows the counsellors to plan the spacing of their sessions, whether a client needs to be seen more than once a week or less. Essentially the relationship between the client and counsellor is quite transparent and open, each play an active role from session to session.
In terms of challenges, the Centre faces many similar downfalls as any small business would. For Babins-Wagner, whose background is in social work, the challenge for her at the beginning was having the appropriate business skills to drive the social enterprise forward.
“As a trained social worker, I didn’t come with any sort of business training,” notes Babins-Wagner, “so when I came into the director role, the board hired a business coach to work with me along the way. I learned the business skills I would need as we got bigger and more complex.”
She shares this valuable nugget of wisdom that she has gathered from her mentors and experience in the director’s chair:
“develop a plan, get good people around you consulting and working with you and then throw out the plan and develop a new one on the basis of what you have learned. It’s about testing and changing. The pathway becomes very clear if you follow the data.”
This year marks the Calgary Counselling Centre’s 50th anniversary. Some projects underway arethe development of counselling apps and new and improved training modules for counsellors.
Case Study by Jasmine Retzer, Student, Mount Royal University