Reports of the incidents of suicide and self-harm among Travellers are alarming. The level of suicide among Travellers between 2000 and 2006 was three times higher than the settled population. This indicates the lack of appropriate places where vulnerable people can go for help.
It is now internationally recognised that it is crucial to take culture into account when providing a counselling service to members of a minority or other ethnic group, as the norms, values and traditions of that group will not be the same as the majority group and their experience will be very different.
Thomas McCann, a member of the Traveller community and a qualified psychotherapist, has been involved in community development and human rights work for over twenty years. Over this time, Thomas has been involved in many campaigns and in managing and developing a number of organisations both at local and national level which responded to the needs of Travellers in Ireland. Thomas has been working on Traveller issues for over twenty years since graduating from Maynooth College in 1987 in community development work and until recently was joint coordinator of the Irish Traveller Movement.
Through his work, Thomas saw a clear need for an independent, culturally appropriate counselling service which works specifically with the Traveller community. The rate of suicide among the Traveller Community is seven times higher than in the majority population.
Thomas established a counselling and psychotherapy service for the Traveller community in 2006. He started working on the project in 2006, including establishing a pilot for a specific counselling service for Travellers. This led, in February 2008, to the launch of the Traveller Counselling Service. The service provides free, confidential counselling to individuals, couples and families across the Traveller community.
Thomas currently manages the Traveller Counselling Service. The organisation has developed into a community-based counselling service with a team of seven accredited psychotherapists. He is also currently a council member of Minceirs Whidden, a Traveller only organisation and is also a member of the National Traveller Monitoring Advisory Committee.
It is very important that people feel that their cultural background and identity is valued and respected regardless of which cultural group they come from.