What is it like as a counselling volunteer at New Pathways?
This week is Volunteers Week, and we want to acknowledge how privileged we are as an organisation to have such wonderful volunteers that do life-saving work. Over 4000 counselling hours were provided by volunteers over the last year alone. We started out as a volunteer-led organisation, and throughout our 30 years, we would not have been able to provide support for as many people as we have, without our volunteers.
Due to the complex trauma that many of our clients have experienced, and to ensure they get the best possible support, all of our volunteer counsellors undergo a full, accredited training program in working with trauma, alongside their university studies. In return, all of our counsellors receive supervision and access to free training throughout their time with us.
We see every single volunteer as one of the team, and we have a great team!
So, what is like being a volunteer counsellor with us? We wanted to lift the lid, and two of our counselling volunteers were happy to share their experiences of volunteering at New Pathways, and what they think of our training program.
I was introduced to New Pathways shortly after the service started, when I was a newly qualified social worker in a child protection team. This was when I was also introduced to the trauma, distress and horrific experiences suffered by children and adults due to their experience of sexual abuse/assault. I also was able to see the continued impact throughout their adult lives. Over time I often became frustrated about the limitations of my role and I knew that I wanted to work for New Pathways one day and have the skills to do more.
I spent many years training and paying for my own courses, outside of social work, and eventually succeeded in completing Post Graduate Diploma in Systemic Psychotherapy. After I completed the course I contacted New Pathways and attended the next information evening – which was January 2019. At the time, it did not occur to me that this counselling experience would not be for me – despite the group being reminded of this at the time. I was utterly convinced that I would not waver in this and only concerned that I would be skilled enough to work with New Pathways’ clients.
I completed the weekend training – and then I went home and wondered if it was for me, such was the power of the weekend. After much reflection, I was still convinced that this was for me. The course was hard emotionally, and appropriately demanding; however, I was part of a supportive group which was a great help.
When I was accepted by New Pathways as a volunteer, I felt amazed and humbled – I felt and still feel that it is a privilege to be in a position where vulnerable and traumatised individuals put their trust and faith in me to help them improve their lives. I was terrified that I would not be up to par. I can honestly say I was supported throughout the process by the volunteer coordinator, and then by my supervisor with whom I have formed a positive working relationship. I am able to be myself, discuss my own responses, and reactions openly – supervision has also assisted with my continued learning and development, e.g. signposting me to various resources of information and learning new strategies and skills.
It is now 2022 and, in some ways, I still feel like I know nothing, although I have learned so much. I have been privileged to be given my clients’ trust in sharing their pain and feelings of shame. I’ve been equally humbled when I see the changes they have made in their lives, and how they have embraced the challenge and remaining committed to their sessions.
At the moment I work four days with a fostering team, and much of my therapeutic work is directed towards attachment focussed therapies for children who are looked after, and their carers. I am fortunate in that I am able to access training around attachment and trauma in my ‘day job,’ as well as accessing training with New Pathways. I never saw New Pathways as a place just to get my hours whilst studying – for me it was the goal! I hope to increase my volunteering hours in the future and meanwhile continue to work towards being the best I can be for the clients. I cannot ever imagine not being a volunteer counsellor for New Pathways. It is one of the best things I have ever done in my life. To see the change in someone’s life, to see a palpable weight lifted and a huge smile replacing tears, is satisfying for the soul and allows me to give something back. I continue to believe that if I am the best I can be for them, I will be the best I can be for myself. I honestly feel that all counsellors should train with, and volunteer for, New Pathways, to prepare them for dealing with trauma, which can arise unexpectedly in any counselling session, whatever the focus.
I feel privileged to have trained with New Pathways.
The training itself was delivered by people who were clearly knowledgeable and passionate about their involvement in this sector, encouraging us to work through difficult ideas and information and to discuss and enquire amongst ourselves. The online sessions were long (all day) and spanned the weekends from November to the beginning of February, requiring huge commitment and a sense of humour. This built a strong team-like approach and we still have a lively WhatsApp group where we trainees share support, knowledge and encouragement. Together, we created an environment of safety and respect, where we were free to explore, question and learn, all of which fed into our ‘workbook’ as the training progressed.
The workbook (for me) was a dissertation length response to different aspects of the course and so required attendance, engagement and individual research in order to answer the questions posed. However, the training was so well organised that each week we covered topics which corresponded directly to sections of the workbook – this meant that by referring to the slides provided and our own notes, we were able to find a good starting point. We were also directed to and provided with other resources, such as book recommendations, statistics from the ONS, CPS information, ‘From Report to Court’ document, and the Welsh Government National Strategy on Violence against Women Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence – plus lots of other useful websites and information which we could piece together, further expanding our understanding and confidence. At times the written work seemed daunting, but it came together surprisingly well and has certainly fed into my work with clients.
I can see how, for example, it is crucial to stabilise a client before considering working with their trauma (if at all). I have worked with clients who want to rush and get everything out there, but I am aware of how risky that would be and how it is my role to keep the client at a safe pace and to apply the brakes when necessary or close the coke bottle lid for a while. I understand how to identify and work effectively with flashbacks and other debilitating effects of traumatic experiences. I also have some appreciation of the issues a client faces when reporting their abuse/rape or when there is no further action in their case – not simply because New Pathways have told me this, but because I have lived with the research for a few months, reading around it and writing it up. I have therefore absorbed this information more thoroughly than if I had just read it in a handout and having done so, I feel better able to share this with clients to help expand their understanding.
New Pathways’ training has provided me with a valuable foundation for working with clients of sexual violence and rape and offers me excellent ongoing support in that work. As the training was so inclusive, there is a wonderful sense that we are all in this together. Not only do I feel armed with necessary knowledge and confidence, I also know where to turn if I should need reassurance or guidance. This was highlighted throughout the training sessions, with constant opportunities to feedback and/or comment on how the training was being delivered and to provide any suggestions for improvement.
I would definitely recommend New Pathways’ training because, in addition to the above, it has also taught me much about myself and helped me to further develop the personal qualities necessary to work within this difficult yet rewarding field, or, indeed, with any client.
If you are interested in becoming a volunteer counsellor with us, please contact us via: firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are interesting in training to become a counsellor, we have a successful counselling college, offering courses from level 2 to level 6; please see www.newpathways.org.uk/counsellingcollege/ for more information.