Volunteers’ Week takes place 1 – 7 June every year. It’s a chance to celebrate and say thank you to all volunteers out there. However, you might be forgiven for asking, ‘why do people volunteer their time for nothing?’
Calvin Holbrook, writing for ‘Happiness.com’ (2020), suggests there are 7 main benefits of volunteering and therefore why people might choose to volunteer:
- 1. Volunteering connects us with others
- Volunteering builds self-confidence and self-esteem
- Volunteering is important for physical health…
- …and mental health
- Volunteering is important for a sense of purpose
- Volunteering helps you forget your own problems
- Volunteering is important for your career
As a volunteer, starting at Westmeria in June 2018 my motives for volunteering were exclusively number 7 on Holbrook’s list. I was in my second year of a Diploma in Therapeutic counselling and needed ‘counselling hours’ with adults to complete my diploma. This was not my chosen path – I had, in fact, been volunteering with 2 charities specialising in counselling children for over a year since this was the area I hoped to work in post qualification. However, my course required that I had at least 50 hours working with adults and therefore with much trepidation I approached Westmeria to ask if any volunteer placements were available.
A month later in June 2018 I awaited my first two adult client’s. Feeling sure they would ‘see through me’, be aware that I was not confident working with adults, prove to me that I really was not cut out to be a counsellor of adults, my heart was in my mouth. However, neither client flinched when I explained that I was a trainee counsellor and I found the core principles of empathy, congruence and unconditional positive regard applied to everyone seeking counselling support, adult or child and that lo and behold, these principles worked.
As I worked with more client’s, not only did I recognise a change in them, I also noticed a change in me. No longer was I volunteering just to get the required hours needed for my course. I found my self- confidence and self- esteem increasing. I had not previously considered myself to have the confidence to work with adults, it was certainly taking me out of my comfort zone but now, here I was, doing so successfully. People were making changes, benefitting from the work we did together, they were referring people to Westmeria on the back of their experience with me and were giving positive feedback thus giving me a sense of pride and, more than that, a sense of identity.
What’s more I was meeting a whole new group of people, not least the clients themselves but also the other counsellors, some trainees like me from whom I gained a great deal of support, but others who were hugely experienced and from whom I could learn a great deal. There was the sense of camaraderie: we were all working to a common goal, a shared sense of understanding of why we were doing the work we were doing, it wasn’t just about getting the hours required to complete a qualification, it gave me a real sense of purpose – I was part of making a positive difference to people’s lives. This made a huge difference to my mental health since work no longer became a chore, something to be endured – it was something I looked forward to and the knowledge that my colleagues were looking out for me, were there when, inevitably, things were not going so well and I needed a boost.
When I experienced a bereavement myself in February 2019, whilst not ‘forgetting my own problems’, my volunteer work with people experiencing their own pain, helped me focus on other people and distracted me from negative thoughts, and again the support from my colleagues and new found friends helped me through.
So.. two years on from my first adult client at Westmeria and a year post qualification, I am still at Westmeria, still volunteering. I became a volunteer counsellor at Westmeria simply for number 7 on Holbrook’s list, to enhance my career, but I found a whole lot more and would say to anyone considering becoming a volunteer, ‘try it, it might just change your life as it did mine’.
Written by Liz, Westmeria counsellor