Keisha Shakespeare-Blackmore, Staff Reporter
Many may know Dr Patrece Charles-Freeman from Food For the Poor (FFP) or Jamaica Anti-doping Commission (JADCO), but these days she has taken on a new role. She is the founder and chief executive officer of Phoenix Counselling Centre.
Charles-Freeman is multi-faceted and despite her new challenge (Phoenix), she retains her role as executive director of JADCO. There, her main focus is public health, and she believes this works well with counselling psychology.
The Phoenix Counselling Centre was founded in November 2010. She said while she worked at FFP, she had to do much counselling and worked with many inner-city families. She enjoyed that and thought she did it well. As such, she decided to do a master's degree in counselling psychology at Northern Caribbean University (which she has just completed).
The degree is an addition to her doctorate in environmental and public health. Subsequently, she founded the centre. Charles-Freeman decided to marry both sectors, because, for her, one complements the other.
"Public health is not just about the environment, but it has a lot to do with community development, sustainable development projects and psycho-social development. In addition, it looks at how the environment affects the health of individuals. Consequently, we have found a unique way to look at the psychological aspect as well," said Charles-Freeman.
They also look at communities labelled as 'ghettos' and why people who reside there live the way they do, for example, throwing garbage in the gullies within close proximity to their homes. The centre's focus is that health is inclusive of the physical, emotional, psychological and social well-being of individuals.
Phoenix Counselling caters to both individual and family counselling, but Charles-Freeman also specialises in child psychology, using the play therapy technique.
"The child/children are given a toy and from his or her interaction with it we evaluate their intelligence level, physical assessment, which is also used to determine the child's status. In addition, we assess whether he or she has been abused, physically, sexually or otherwise, and find out other things such as why he or she might be doing poorly in school."
The counsellor told Flair she chose to work with children because she has a special liking for them.
"By just talking to a child who might be suffering from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or autism, you realise that often they know something is wrong. They know that they are different, but they just don't understand why, and my heart goes out to a child like that. I just want to help them and offer help with the appropriate therapy."
The 39-year-old mother of two, who is married to Dr Horace Freeman, said she also has a special knack for working with couples. She said she likes working with couples because, so far, she has not come across a counsellor who really understands a couple's needs.
"The truth is, many couples who come to you, don't want to break up. But many counsellors tend to focus a lot on the negative side of things instead of coming up with solutions and helping the couple to identify and meet their emotional needs."
She added that one of the key factors in ensuring that the family works is that each person understands and knows his or her responsibility in the family.
Charles-Freeman said one of the centre's challenges has to do with people's perception of what going to counselling means. Some believe that if you go to a counsellor, it means you are going crazy.
"What it means is that you just need a little help to connect the dots on the puzzle that is currently in front of you ... or you may just need someone to talk to."
An avenue to vent
She added that often people are just stressed, and having someone to talk to can create an avenue to vent. As such, she said her pro-bono Fridays are completely filled. While the centre caters to the individual and family, it also has a personnel-assistance programme which is designed to provide confidential counselling to staff and their families for a wide range of personal and work-related problems which may increase their absenteeism and reduce their work effectiveness.
Currently, she has three associates at Phoenix, two clinical psychologists and one public-health consultant. Potential clients should either be referred or can call and make appointments. Charles-Freeman's ultimate goal is to establish the Phoenix Foundation, which will cater to abandoned children from infancy and raise them with love, something she feels is lacking in some children's homes.
While Charles-Freeman gives of herself selflessly to others, she juggles being a wife and mother. But she said she has a great support system through her husband and parents, Gloria and Pearnel Charles, the latter being the minister of labour and social security. She said her husband shares school drop-off and pick-up duties, among other things. Whenever it's exam time, she does not schedule any meetings after 5 p.m. because she has to get home and assist her children. Fridays are for the family and, being Adventists, it's church on Saturdays. Sunday is homework day.
She told Flair that she is no superwoman and does get tired, so they have come up with 'mommy time', where it is just her and her recliner for a couple of hours. Nonetheless, she said she works as hard as she does to leave a positive legacy for her children.
The Phoenix Counselling Centre is located at 4 Hopefield Avenue, Kingston 10; Email:firstname.lastname@example.org; Phone: 876-868-3290.