My first experience with volunteering was on 1st January this year at the Whitechapel Mission. Slightly hungover and very tired from the New Year celebrations, myself and a few friends drove in the dark at 6am to begin the morning kitchen shift. We cooked porridge, eggs and other breakfast foods in a hot, sweaty kitchen, then served up the goodies to the customers, most of whom are homeless.
This was the spark that led me to finding a more regular volunteering role. I decided that I would like to offer something more specific than my cooking and cleaning skills. I had recently gained a Level 2 Reiki Healing certificate and thought it would be a great way to put it into practice. So I searched the internet for ‘reiki volunteer’. I wasn’t sure I would find anything, but 2 vacancies came up. I promptly got in touch and, to my surprise, I was called in for an interview at the Royal Trinity Hospice.
As with any interview, I was extremely nervous. I had no experience whatsoever of hospices or of giving reiki to anyone other than friends and family, let alone bereaved or terminally ill patients, but something had pulled me to apply. To my surprise, I received a phone call a week after the interview to say I had been offered a volunteer position on the Complimentary Therapy team! I really had no idea what kind of commitment I was making; hours and hours of training, meetings, online NHS occupational health training, shadowing other therapists, cancer awareness training (provided by Macmillan), Sage & Thyme (how to deal with emotional distress), passing CNHC verification, getting DBS checked, arranging insurance. From the interview in January, I was fully up and running with regular sessions by April. A process which took 4 months!!
So what’s it like volunteering? I’m sure it varies depending on where and how you volunteer, but the Royal Trinity team have been very supportive and welcoming, yet at the same time given me the space and trust to let me get on with my role independently. I’ve been given the opportunity to get involved with the relaxation/meditation groups and lead them from time to time. In this way I got to know some of my patients, interact, build trust and rapport before offering treatments. It has also given me the chance to learn new skills related to relaxation, meditation, communication and observation, as well as being allowed to hear very personal accounts of what it’s like dealing with terminal illness and death, which is something I have very little personal experience of, so it’s really important for me to tune in and listen to what my patients are feeling in order to better understand what it is they are going through. Witnessing someone going through a struggle and helping them get through the other side of a dark tunnel with a new found inner strength is a really rewarding and inspiring process to be a part of.
My office at the hospice!
Here is a brief summary of the benefits volunteering has given me:
- the opportunity to practice my chosen skill (reiki)
- the opportunity to learn and develop new skills (meditation, experience with emotionally vulnerable individuals)
- the feeling of giving something back to my community (if you believe in Karma, this one’s for you)
- helping others in need has helped me develop a sense of personal empowerment
- I’ve made new friends and been inspired by both therapists and patients alike
- Building self-confidence.
If you are interested in volunteering, there are so many ways you can get involved, from befriending, to gardening, to web design, to teaching, hairdressing etc.. Whatever skill you have, it’s likely something you can offer. How often you offer it is really up to you. I visit the hospice on a weekly basis, since Reiki is usually given as a course of treatments over a few weeks, but I also attend ‘feel good’ days where I offer mini taster treatments for those who have never experienced Reiki before. You could start with a one off like I did and see how you go!
And if you are wondering what Reiki is… well that’s a whole other post. Which is coming soon! Watch this space…