As University students, we are often told that volunteering is the best way to bolster our CV. However students, Psychology students in particular, often get confused about what types of volunteering are best suited to their career interests. Today I will be discussing with you one of the most rewarding types of volunteering I have been involved in: Geriatric Counselling. Geriatric Counselling provides volunteers with the opportunities to strengthen their communication skills, build empathetic relationships and genuinely improve the lives of older people.
I have been involved in Geriatric Counselling in different capacities since 2014. In 2014, I spent 4 of the best months of my life in tropical paradise Fiji. In Natabua, a small community in the West of the main island, I worked full time as a counsellor/mental health worker. The facility was extremely understaffed so my role mainly consisted of providing companionship and emotional support to the residents. I spent a great deal of time working with the more difficult/aggressive clients that staff had all but given up on. I was able to get to the root of their frustrations and help improve their time at the home. My proudest achievement in my time at the Golden Age Home was getting one resident who refused to go outside when I first arrived, so sit out in the sun with me everyday and join in activities in the Recreation Hall.
My time at Golden Age Home wasn’t just beneficial to my clients. Everyday was like Tuesdays with Morrie. I received countless blessings from the residents every day and they taught me lessons I hold dear to my heart until this day. I honestly think it is beneficial to all young people to spend time with the elderly to gain some perspective on life. This effect was doubled for me by the fact that I was in Fiji. I learnt a great deal about another culture and my cross-cultural communication skills are now one of my best assets. I can honestly say that working with Geriatric clients has not only made me a better job candidate but a much better person.
Another great benefit of working with the elderly is that the staff at these facilities really do appreciate your coming in. They respect your training and give you the space you need to help but also thrive as a budding young psychologist. But let me be perfectly clear, you can not practice any formal therapies as a volunteer. But you can provide them with some assistance in re-conceptualising things. And honestly, your companionship makes them valued again as a person and that goes very far in improving their mental health and well-being.
Since returning to Australia I have worked as a Social Support volunteer at several aged care homes in Melbourne. Some weeks, it is the only thing that makes me happy. It is incredibly rewarding work that I highly recommend to any young Psychology student seeking a way to help people whilst improving their employability skills.