The name on the door tells its story. The Kostka Clinic is among a cluster of more than 20 suites adjoining Dunedin’s Mercy Hospital, occupied by medical specialists and allied health professionals.

Named after Mother Kostka Kirby, who led the first Sisters of Mercy to Dunedin in 1897, the bright, airy office which looks out towards Mt Cargill provides an ideal base for Sister of Mercy Sue France to practise as a psychotherapist and counsellor. 

“Care of the sick has always been part of our tradition,” she says. “Within a few days of arriving in Dunedin, our pioneer sisters were visiting the sick in their homes and supporting families in need. I see my own ministry as very much in line with those early days.

“Among those most in need in our society are people who struggle with mental illness or who feel isolated or alienated from others. Psychotherapy is rarely available or affordable for the most disadvantaged.

“With support from Mercy Hospital’s Charitable Outreach Fund, I’m able to work with clients who would otherwise be unable to access the help they need.”

Professed as a Sister of Mercy in 1981, Sue taught in Catholic secondary schools in Otago and Southland for about 10 years, before graduating in Pastoral Counselling at Loyola University in Baltimore in 1995.

With a longtime interest in counselling, she was conscious of needing to have some life experience behind her before moving into this field. She spent six years working part-time for Catholic Social Services in Dunedin and in private practice in Invercargill, before returning to Loyola University to complete her Ph D.

“I think I have always been drawn to wanting to understand more about how people relate and what makes us flourish as human beings. My own spirituality is part of what I bring to my work,” she explains. “And I’m open to clients bringing their faith experience and spirituality to what we share, if they wish to do so.”

What leads people to the Kostka Clinic? “Some are suffering from psychological distress such as anxiety or depression. Others are coping with the effects of trauma, especially from sexual abuse,” says Sue. “Some seek help at times of transition in their lives, or when they are struggling with broken relationships or other kinds of loss.”

Referrals come from GPs, other health professionals or social service agencies; some clients refer themselves. “They come from a broad cross-section of society, ranging from people engaged in professions or ministries to those on sickness or invalid benefits.”

Healing and personal growth provide the focus when Sue meets with clients. “I work to help them understand how past experiences have shaped their present thoughts, feelings and actions.

“The purpose is not to ‘dig up’ the past, but to understand how the past impacts on the present. This awareness can create a new freedom, allowing people to live more consciously into the future. It’s essentially about being more in touch with ourselves, with others and with the world in which we live.

“Meeting people on this level often comes with a sense of the sacred. It’s a privilege to be able to walk with others in this way.”

Reprinted from Mana Atawhai Mercy at Work 2010