A lot of people struggle to find the time or motivation for volunteer work, simply because financial gain is something we require to survive in today’s societies. It is, however, in my opinion really important to gain some experience of volunteering your time and skills for no financial gain whenever you’re able, simply because of the different benefits it provides both for you and others. Personally, I have been involved in a couple of volunteering roles, both of which I have found massively rewarding – albeit challenging at times.
The role I’ve decided to write about is one that people may not instantly think of where volunteering is concerned. When thinking about a volunteering role, we often think of fundraising, DIY projects, conservation and the like; whereas some of the more unusual roles are often forgotten.
As part of work experience for my potential career in Clinical Psychology, last summer I underwent a volunteer placement in a local psychiatric hospital, which involved working with some really vulnerable and risky patient groups. Due to the risks involved in this role, it wasn’t something I took lightly and would probably not be considered your typical ‘fun’ volunteering project that we often see portrayed in the media. But I think it’s really important to look for the more unusual roles if you’re interested in volunteering and not just staying in your comfort zone.
Volunteering can provide you with some really amazing opportunities. There is a self-centered culture within jobs in our society of pushing yourself to the limit and working as hard as you possibly can, even under great levels of stress. Whereas in the volunteering sector, there’s less emphasis on slogging your guts out and more on personal learning and growth, as well as providing for those who are less fortunate than you.
From working with a variety of patients, to women with long criminal histories and complex mental health needs, to men with learning difficulties, I learnt a huge amount about myself and how I cope in stressful situations. In addition, I also helped some really poorly people, without the pressure of being paid.
I felt myself more willing to just sit and talk to these people – which is what they ultimately needed – simply because I didn’t have the constant financial pressure to perform. You’re also provided with a sense of pride that you’re giving your time for free to those who really need it, and there’s no greater feeling in my opinion.
Even though volunteering is a more altruistic path to take compared to paid work, there will always be certain aspects of personal gain. Through volunteering, I was able to improve my CV and gain some key clinical experience towards my career progression. But there’s just something about volunteering that people admire and appreciate, regardless of the role you’ve taken.
Whether it’s doing your next door neighbour’s gardening, volunteering for a charity or working in a psychiatric hospital, there will be so many personal lessons you will learn simply by being there. Sometimes we need to get away from the financial pressures of the rat race and realise that to help people, we don’t need to be paid in money, or any other currency for that matter!
I think it’s important that we experience human kindness – both giving and receiving – at some point in our lives so we can remember that we are not working machines. As much as being paid in today’s world is important, so is personal growth, kindness and providing – simply because we can.
Melissa Kirwan is a full-time postgraduate student currently studying for a MSc in Clinical Psychology and Mental Health.