"I still remember how I felt when I took my very first call - the confidence I had developed during my training seemed to evaporate moments before; the thought of speaking to a real child and helping them was completely different to training â€“ this time
My feelings changed as soon I summoned the courage to press the button to take the call. Everything I learned during my training came together and knowing that the supervisor was on hand to give me advice and guide me through any difficult moments enabled me to relax.
After I had made the decision to volunteer and was accepted, I attended ten weeks of specialised training along with 17 other new volunteers. I was taught the skills necessary for counselling children and young people. We explored some of the issues that children would be calling us about such as abortion, sexual abuse, bullying and gang related worries. We were all from very diverse backgrounds so it was really interesting to hear about other people’s experiences and opinions about certain issues. It was also fun – the other volunteers were really sociable which made learning an enjoyable experience.
At first I was a little self conscious as I knew my actions were being assessed and would be a reflection on my skills as a counsellor and subsequent progression through the course. However, the trainers created a supportive atmosphere, where everyone was able to express their opinions without fear of being judged. This made it much easier to learn and I gained a lot more confidence in my counselling ability.
During the course I realised that I didn’t have as much life experience as some of the others, particularly those volunteers with social work backgrounds. I learnt a lot from them, but I also think they learnt a lot from me. At 20 years old I’m closer in age to the children and young people who call. I have an awareness of what society is like for young people now, which over the last 15 years or so has changed a great deal. For example, cyber bullying and knife crime wouldn’t have been as much of an issue for some of the older volunteers when they were growing up. Also the language young people use to express themselves is different now. This is why ChildLine needs volunteers of all ages and from a variety of backgrounds - by working together and learning from each other as an organisation, ChildLine can ensure that we give children the help and support they need.
Being a counsellor isn’t really hard but is far from easy. Obviously calls from children who have suicidal feelings are extremely challenging, as are ones where you hear shouting in the background and the line suddenly goes dead. Not knowing what will happen to them or feeling that I haven’t had the chance to help them as much as I could have done worries me. Maybe it will get easier as I become more experienced, but in some ways I’m not sure if I want it to - caring about children and wanting to do the best for them is why people volunteer for ChildLine. It’s understandable to feel concerned and although I know I can’t fix everything, I can make some things at least a little easier.
Outside of ChildLine, I have become more responsive to people’s feelings. I now notice the way they phrase things or the tone of voice they use which makes me take more time to ensure that people are ok. At times I can become too involved in other people’s feelings, putting them first, and it can be a little upsetting when people don’t notice how I’m feeling but I know that it’s not their fault and that taking the time to help others is a good thing. The experience I have gained will also help me in my career, giving me a range of transferable skills and showing prospective employers that I have a certain strength of character. I’m now going into my fourth year of medicine and so I’m going to have to change my shift pattern to enable me to continue to volunteer but I’m determined to do it – being a volunteer counsellor with ChildLine is possibly the best thing I’ve ever done in my life."
If you are interested in becoming a Childline cousellor then click here