Community Therapist Volunteers at Eastside Family Centre
April 20, 2020
I started out as a practicum student in Counselling Psychology at Wood’s Homes Eastside Family Centre back in September of 2014. After completing my degree, I stayed on as a Community Therapist Volunteer.
Although my personal and professional schedules in the past six years have been sporadic at times, resulting in long breaks from volunteering, it feels as though I never really leave Wood’s Homes. Walking into the backroom, greeting everyone and settling into a chair for the shift has been a steadying and meaningful presence in my own life, and hopefully, in the lives of my colleagues and clients.
Two themes emerge immediately from this experience: meaning and flexibility.
Multiple threads are woven into the concept of meaning.
As a therapist and working with people in need, it is an experience that can be equal parts interesting, joyful, and frustrating. There are times when you do not “click” with a client and any difference you may make feels too small – yet, you were there anyway. You did your best, and learning to be alright with that is a big part of the therapist experience. Other times, you know the session went well and the feedback form reflects it fully, and it is a moment of joy.
What these moments have in common is that I am continuously learning to help clients build on their own strengths and trust in their ability to do so.
Another bright and warm thread in my volunteer experience is the team. Eastside Family Centre gathers many amazing people: staff, students, other volunteers, and consultants. Everyone brings something unique and interesting to the table. Backroom conversations remained a source of learning and reflection long after I graduated. Some people I see regularly, whereas others – in what feels like a curious parallel process to how client encounters go – I may only glimpse once. And in another mirror of life, I never know for sure when (or if) we will cross paths again. What I do know with rare certainty is that conversations will be engaging, the silence as people work on their own things will be relaxed and pleasant, and we will pick up right where we left off.
Volunteering at Eastside Family Centre is flexible. While I sometimes wonder if frustrated cursing accompanies the management's job of putting together the centre's overall work schedule, for those of us who volunteer, it has definitely been an amazing convenience. I am deeply grateful for it because it makes managing my own commitments much easier, and because it allows me to continue returning to Wood’s Homes.
Nothing teaches the relationship of client factor to client outcome better than the single-session model at Wood’s Homes. You share an hour, then clients go on with their lives. The single-session model was developed to better support clients: A service intentionally designed for the modern chaotic times that provides a flexible, brief and meaningful connection to a therapist.
As a volunteer, I found that this brief and meaningful connection extends both ways. And whether you see it as a ripple effect, a metaphor, or a parallel process – what matters is that you see it and it works.
I retired from Wood’s Homes after 20 years of employment as a Program Manager for Street Services. After several months away, I decided to return as a Community Therapist Volunteer at Eastside Family Centre.
Volunteering at Wood’s Homes is a way of staying current with my therapeutic skills. I also want to continue providing a service to people seeking support and help with a variety of issues affecting their mental health.
It has been a rewarding experience to work among a team of other therapists from various disciplines. Overall, it keeps me active in a program that began some 30 years ago and continues “to stand the test of time”.
I’d also say that if you are healthy and looking to stay active, volunteer wherever you can. You have no idea what a difference volunteering makes to social agencies.