Being a Listening Volunteer

Paul Johnson, Samaritans Listening Volunteer
Paul Johnson Volunteer

I’m Paul Johnson, I have worked for Network Rail for twelve years and this year I became a Listening Volunteer for Samaritans….

I decided to do this because I felt an urge to ‘give something back’ to society so I was looking for a way to do this that:

  • I could fit around my family life and work
  • Was something I would benefit from
  • Involved in something that I could be good at

Being a Samaritan ticked all three boxes, so I went along to an open evening at my local branch in Reigate. Until then I didn’t know any Samaritans, so it was a great opportunity to talk to Samaritans about what it is like and why they did it…

I met other people interested in becoming Samaritans and learned why they wanted to do it. I made my decision there and then and left with a line ringing in my ears, ‘You will get so much more out of it than you will put in.’

The training was very thorough, and I needed to re-arrange a few things in my diary to make it possible….and it was not easy. They really challenged your capability to accept and deal with many different situations…which in turn helps you learn a lot about yourself. The training and support of a mentor prepared me and gave me the confidence to take calls.

I find being a listening volunteer interesting, challenging and rewarding – I also feel that I have the necessary support around me when I need it.

I have already noticed a few benefits for me that I hadn’t expected, for example, the experience has changed the way I now talk to family, friends and colleagues. I listen more and encourage them to explore options themselves rather than my natural approach of jumping in, analysing the situation and giving advice.

It has also given me a strong sense of perspective of my life. What is really important to me and what I want to achieve and experience… and a realisation of just how lucky I am.

The fact that Liverpool don’t win every week, my computer is running at a sloth-pace or somebody just cut me up in their car…in the grand scheme of things are not things to get worked up about.

The thing I enjoy most now is the variety of the calls – when you answer the call and say ‘Samaritans, can I help you?’ you have no idea what the call will be about… There is no regular pattern or typical call…expect the unexpected. This excites me and keeps me on my toes.

There are so many satisfying experiences for a volunteer, for example, when you put down the receiver at 2.00am having helped someone in such depths of despair and they have no one else to talk to and at the end of the call they say, ‘thank you, you’ve really helped me tonight’.

Even though I may have only said a handful of words during the hour call. I was there when they needed someone, and I listened and cared.

The most challenging aspects for me is making regular time for the shifts and making sure that I am 100% on my game …not always easy at 5.00am… but a double espresso usually helps.

You can receive some very difficult calls and you need decide right there and then, how you will deal with the call…but the training gives you the confidence in your conviction. For me it is then an iterative learning process, what would I do differently next time if I received a similar call.

I would say that if your gut feel says, ‘I’m interested in becoming a Samaritan but…’ then I would say park the ‘but’s’ for now – get in touch with your local branch, check out the website, have a coffee with any Samaritans you know…have a coffee with me if you want.

My only regret about becoming a Listening Volunteer this year is that I didn’t do it 20 years ago…but I’m happy and proud that I’m doing it now.