‘I became an office volunteer nearly a year ago now, after hearing about the opportunity. I don’t know if it’s co-incidental but at this somewhat mature stage in life I’ve come to realise that rather than working my way through a “bucket list” of exotic places to go and things to do, it’s potentially much more rewarding to explore “inner space” and my relationships with others – especially for me as this is an area I’ve never been much good at.
So apart from just doing something useful, volunteering at PGCS has brought me into closer contact with others and some of the problems they have – so it’s doubly satisfying.
Peter (Office Volunteer)’
This is the first of another occasional series, giving the perspectives of some of our crew of office volunteers or OVs (the idea is that these posts will sit alongside the therapist and client perspectives already on this blog – representative of the entirety of our community here, which feels important).
Thank you very much to Peter for his opening contribution.
We operate as a gift culture at our not-for-profit service, in all aspects of how we work. Our clients make a contribution to our costs in providing the session, on an according-to-means basis. Because our service offers an excellent quality of therapy, people on high incomes choose to come here and pay a full commercial rate. That allows us to offer the same service at an affordable rate to those on lower incomes or benefits. It’s been a robust financial model, over the years. Our therapists volunteer at least half a day (alongside their diverse ‘day jobs’ in private practice, healthcare, education etc), and so do our office volunteers. It’s important to all of us that good therapy outside the medical/psychiatric model is available to everyone.
Like our therapists, our office volunteers are a diverse group. Some are retired or semi-retired, some are training and looking for work experience, some work part-time elsewhere, some are looking to return to work, we’ve even had one or two counselling students – one of whom joined us for her placement when she reached the final year of her training, and who is still with us now as a qualified and experienced therapist!
Our office volunteers are important to us, and to the people who come here. They answer the phones, and are often the first point of contact. Warmth and welcome at that stage – given how much courage it can take to make the call – feel extremely important. Our OVs greet people as they arrive for their sessions, make drinks, and help keep the counselling suite welcoming and tended. They also do some of our administration.
At any one time, we have some 10-20 OVs, who cover our working week between them, often filling in for each other when holidays or sickness have an impact on availability. They, together with our 25 or so therapists, make up our staff. There are generally up to 5 or 6 people here at any one time, which is great because it means there is almost always someone to talk to (in a profession that can feel isolating), and plenty of support from colleagues when needed – be that practical or emotional.
Our OVs tend to be a more shifting population than our therapists – because many of them are effectively en route to somewhere else, usually paid work. That said and like our therapists, some of our OVs stay many years. They come from all kinds of backgrounds, and bring all sorts of interesting life experiences and abilities. Our OV co-ordinator used to be a head librarian. She does a lot of training with our volunteers, and helps us to cover areas like confidentiality with them, or what to do about any concerns (for example, someone telephoning in a distressed state).
We are extremely grateful to Peter and his colleagues, for their generosity with their time, commitment, cheerful presences and hard work. We appreciate you, and we know that those coming to this service also value what you offer.
Palace Gate Counselling Service, Exeter
Counselling Exeter since 1994