“It is never dull”
Sue Olden is a Lifeline Crisis Support Worker and following our story on Lifeline last week, we thought we’d ask Sue more about what motivates her to do what she does.
“I know this may sound like a cliché, but I made a conscious decision when I retired that I wanted to give back to the community in as many ways as I could and, clearly, volunteering was how I could achieve this — and Lifeline felt the right avenue for me.
I have always been aware that there was a need for volunteers to support organisations such as Lifeline in anyway one can and volunteering as a crisis support worker really is a unique opportunity to make a difference. Again, another cliché; but so worthwhile and ever-so relevant when you comprehend the statistics — over 2000 calls a day are made to Lifeline Australia-wide. So, there is a continual need for skilled and trained volunteers to staff the call centres across Australia and be available to take any one of those calls — and that’s all day, every day.
It’s a complex coordination task rostering shifts to make sure that there are adequate numbers of trained volunteers to answer calls and to also have supervisory staff on-call to support those volunteers.
The more volunteers there are the more calls can be answered and, ultimately, support or help extended to those callers.
All the volunteers for the telephone support service go through some solid training to help work-out if the tasks ahead are right for you and if you have any personal issues that may influence your capacity to carry-out the role effectively. But by-and-large the training provides good grounding and knowledge of available resources and then there is ongoing supervisor support through the training and once you have qualified. You never stop learning and that in itself is rewarding as well.
The key skill is listening... to hear, rather than to listen to respond... and that is a learned skill that gets easier as you go, through your training.
All calls are confidential, and I think that is often why some people phone-in; to talk through their particular issue with someone not connected to them or their situation and, importantly, for there to be an impartial approach without judgement. And these are the skills we volunteers learn through the training over weeks and months — including how to handle and manage calls that may push your own buttons for whatever reason.
So, as a positive aside, the training also benefits your personal growth and strengthens your sense and capacity to be of help to the callers.
Some calls are straight-forward simply seeking information or referrals. However, other calls can be lengthy and can deal with serious and distressing matters. Many of these callers are really in a dark place and have reached-out and it is our role to ‘walk alongside’ them for the time of the call and, hopefully, see them ‘move forward’ in some way. It’s not always easy or successful but, nonetheless, a call that is answered is one more person who may be able to benefit from just talking about their problems. If I wasn’t on the phones volunteering, that call may not be able to be answered.
I do a weekly shift of 3–4 hours and, given the nature of the work, that is taxing enough for me, but other volunteers do more shifts or longer hours. It depends on the individual and what transpires in any one week — some give you enthusiasm to take up an extra shift and other times you need to do some ‘self-care’ to recharge your batteries for the next shift.
It is never dull.”