Diary Room: The Value of Volunteering

Last week, I finished my time as a volunteer counsellor at two different  agencies in Yorkshire. Leaving was quite a big decision. However, after a lot of thought, I decided that that as I am now looking for permanent work, I need to free up as much of my available time as possible. The interesting thing is that leaving these voluntary positions  felt exactly like leaving a paid role. I think this highlights just how real voluntary work is. It can be rewarding, challenging and skills-enhancing. An opportunity to grow.

I certainly learnt a lot during my time with the agencies. Client work is a compulsory part of any Counselling Diploma course and with good reason. It means that you gain not only a qualification but also experience. The tutors at college teach the theory and provide important instruction on legal and safe practice. However, it’s only in the  counselling room that you discover how it all comes to life

To begin with, there are the practicalities of needing to find an available position with an agency and interviewing for it – a very different experience to applying for a role in financial sector where I was previously based. The role brings requirements such as contracting, record keeping and risk management which I had never had to do before and which all need to be exactly right if the counselling is to be safe.

And then there is the work itself. It’s scary at first. Sitting in front of a client and thinking ‘This is isn’t an assignment, this is real’ while at the same time trying to maintain a professional manner and remain empathic to the other person. Getting past all that and trusting yourself that you can really do it is a part of the learning. After a while, you discover your own ways of working with clients, while still remembering all those important lessons from college.

There is a real sense reward for a volunteer counsellor in enabling people to explore feelings and experiences that may have remained unspoken for a long time. It is a remarkable experience to see someone discovering their own capacity to make choices about who and what they can be. Alongside this, there is the continual development of the counsellor’s skills and abilities.

So while my time as a volunteer has drawn to an end, I know I’ll never regret doing it. I feel that I have gained a huge amount from it, including a sense of having a positive presence in the world (which was what first drew me to this area of study). That’s not to say that the life of a volunteer is always easy. In a money-driven world, It can be difficult to deal with what can be the many demands of such a role – especially in terms of time – without being paid for it. It can sometimes be very tiring. Ultimately though, wherever my life takes me next, it’s something I feel pleased and proud to have done.


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