Open Arms – Veterans & Families Counselling is Australia’s leading provider of high quality mental health assessment and clinical counselling services for Australian veterans and their families.
The history of Open Arms lies in the vision of returned service personnel following the Vietnam War. The war was a difficult chapter in Australia’s history, and for those who served the experience forged strong bonds and a commitment to look out for each other. This deep sense of mate-ship led Vietnam veterans to lobby for a specialised counselling and support service for veterans and their families. The result was the Vietnam Veterans’ Counselling Service (VVCS). VVCS was established by the Australian Government in 1982 and in 2018 the service was renamed Open Arms – Veterans & Families Counselling to reflect the expansion of eligibility for services that had occurred in the intervening years.
Late in 2019, Open Arms adopted the use of the SafeSide Framework for Recovery-Oriented Suicide Prevention to strengthen the management and response to clients at risk. During 2020, a comprehensive workforce development activity has been undertaken to ensure all staff are familiar with the use of the framework, which moves our focus to planning interventions, rather than predicting the risk of suicide. This represents a best practice approach to suicide and violence risk assessment and intervention. Since the emergence of COVID-19, many service offerings have been moved to an online format.
Open Arms offers a range of free training opportunities (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training, Mental Health First Aid, SafeTALK and Suicide Prevention START) to those seeking to help family, friends, co-workers or others in the veteran community. Our suicide intervention workshops assist participants to recognise warning signs for suicide and learn intervention strategies.
In 2019, following an earlier trial period, Open Arms officially launched its National Community and Peer Program. Our ‘lived experience’ peer workers work collaboratively with veterans, family supports, community agencies and mental health clinicians. Peer workers draw on their own lived experiences from the military and mental health service system when working with clients. The peer workers who work in teams with clinicians are able to provide insight and support to veterans with complex care needs, especially those who have made a suicide attempt. The program augments existing counselling and group program services and enhances our capacity to identify and respond to clients who are vulnerable or at risk.
In addition to the initiatives outlined above, the Open Arms safety planning mobile phone app ‘Operation Life’ is designed to help those at risk deal with suicidal thoughts with the support of a clinician. This app is currently being redeveloped to include the SafeSide Framework.
Open Arms provides counselling services across Australia through regional offices and our outreach provider network. We operate a 24hr phone line for counselling and support services (1800 011 046). The Open Arms website (www.openarms.gov.au) provides further information and a range of resources for veterans and their families, and health professionals.