History of the Maya Centre

The Islington Women’s Counselling Centre (IWCC), now the Maya Centre, was founded in 1984, with core funding from Islington Council which paid the Clinical Director’s and Office Manager’s salaries and provided rent-free accommodation in the Eastgate Building.

The original group saw itself as coming from a feminist perspective and called themselves Islington Women and Mental Health. They were part of the larger anti-psychiatry movement which was active at the time, which felt that men as well as feminism had not taken women’s mental health seriously.

The founder members of the Islington Women and Mental Health Project were a diverse group including local women, users of services, and professionals, collaborating around their shared values of feminist approaches to therapy and counselling, and challenge to traditional psychiatric responses. Their collaboration was crucial to the ethos and dynamism of this community inspired project.
A successful grant application enabled the founders to employ their first co-ordinator, Brid Greally in 1984. Mary Lynne Ellis, an art therapist, was the Centre’s first Chair.

The group wrote papers and spoke at conferences pertaining to the various changes which were happening in the mental health field: the closure of the large psychiatric hospitals and the passing of the Community Care Act, reorganization within the NHS and the changes made to the Mental Health Act. The approach was two-pronged: a political critique of the psychiatric system and plans to provide alternative forms of intervention, among them counselling.

Initially a help-line was set up which gradually developed into face-to-face counselling. The priority then became how to provide psychoanalytic counselling to women who were most disadvantaged. The evolution into IWCC developed a philosophy and policy of bringing free counselling to the local estates through an outreach programme and an engagement with psychotherapy to rethink questions of gender, race and sexuality.

By the early 90s, the Centre had charitable status and some funding from reputable charities, but remained small and comparatively unknown. Three to four professionally-trained psychodynamic counsellors were employed part-time; each had a specialism: one in counselling for Irish women, one in counselling for Black women, and one for women in violent situations. For a brief period in the mid-90s, there was also a counsellor for refugee women. ‘Introduction to Counselling’ courses and day-schools for local women, especially women from the ethnic minorities, were run in conjunction with Birkbeck College, University of London, for several years. This arrangement provided accreditation, enabling women from underprivileged backgrounds to have entry into professional training courses. A referral service was also provided free for women who did not fit into the criteria (see below).

By the late 1990s, the Centre was developing in more complex ways in response to the needs of women and the changing social and mental health scene as well as the expectations of funders, so we re-organised to have a Director with specific funding and organisational responsibilities and we expanded our work with new agencies, such as the Department of Health for the Mothering Project. In 2001, after much discussion, we changed our name to the Maya Centre to indicate our broad-based, unbiased service for women and in 2007 moved to new specially designed premises in City North, just behind Finsbury Park station. The aims of the Centre were to provide free, high-quality psychodynamic counselling to women on low incomes in the North London community.

This work has continued ever since and in 2013 the Centre moved to larger premises in Elthorne Road near Archway. The Maya Centre remains the only body providing such a free, professional service in London for women only in a safe environment (The Women’s Therapy Centre in nearby Manor Gardens, provided only a small proportion of its therapeutic services at low cost to local women).

 


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