A Sunderland counselling service has committed to improving the mental health of the city by investing in the training of new psychotherapists.

Breakfree Counselling, based at the North East Business and Innovation Centre (BIC), has expanded into new premises at the park’s Innovator House in preparation for the return to face-to-face counselling as pandemic restrictions ease.

Since launching their business in 2018, founders and qualified counsellors Tracy Woodhouse and Helen Lumley have already recruited a third qualified psychotherapist, four placement counsellors and two part-time administrators to help power their ambitions for growth.

Now they are planning to create further placements for University of Sunderland students as part of a rolling programme.

Tracy said: “We are passionate about creating opportunities for the next generation of counsellors because we know what a difference therapy can make to people’s lives.

“We need to make services like ours as easy and as affordable as possible to access – especially given the experience of the past year.

“It’s hugely difficult though for trainee counsellors to find work placements to give them the 100 hours of clinical experience they need to qualify.

“As graduates ourselves, we want to pay it forward – to repay the opportunities that were afforded to us – plus some.

“This way, we can create training opportunities while making our services even more affordable to even more people.”

Breakfree Counselling provides a range of professional therapies to help support individuals, schools and businesses through any difficulties they are facing.

It was set up by friends Tracy and Helen who met while studying Counselling at the University of Sunderland and who shared a vision to make it as easy to talk about mental health as it is to discuss physical health.

The business is designed around a ‘family first’ approach, with appointments offered from 7am to 11pm, 365 days a year, to fit around working hours and family commitments.

During 2020, the business offered free counselling to all frontline workers, including existing clients.

The recent expansion has seen Breakfree Counselling move into four sound-proofed offices covering 806 sq ft, as well as investment in a rebrand and new website.

Tracy said: “It’s a bit of a leap of faith but we know we need to stretch a bit if we are to achieve our ambitions.

“The BIC has made it so easy for us to make the expansion and it feels relatively risk-free because we can move around the site as our business changes size and shape.

“There are so many different unit options and loads of help to configure things the way you want them.

“When you couple that with the business support provided – we wouldn’t be based anywhere else.”

Alongside establishing its training facilities, Breakfree Counselling will be focused this year on rolling out mental health services to schools and youth projects.

Louise Hardy, Business Development Manager at the BIC, said: “I’ve worked alongside Tracy and Helen from day one of their business and have seen first-hand the energy and talent they have invested. So, it’s no surprise to see their plans coming to fruition.

“It’s especially satisfying to see the success of businesses onsite when they have such a meaningful purpose at the heart of what they do. The growth of Breakfree Counselling not only means the creation of quality employment opportunities but also means an improvement in the mental health of the city.”