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Staff Volunteering Case Study: Karen D’Arcy-Kernan

Karen D’Arcy-Kernan – Volunteering Case Study

What I do: Volunteer Counsellor

Hi, my name is Karen and I work as an Administration Assistant at CTSI.

After graduating from the Open University with a BA (Hons) in International Studies, and ten years of employment in a variety of administrative roles, my experience of working with people led to an interest in mental health and how counselling is provided for those who need it. I decided to take a leap of faith and train to become a counsellor.

How I became a Volunteer Counsellor

Training over two years at college led to me receiving an HND in Counselling and becoming a BACP Registered Counsellor in 2019. My role as a Volunteer Counsellor at the organisation I work with actually began during my training, when as a student counsellor I was required to complete 100 counselling sessions with clients.

The organisation’s ethos of providing low-cost counselling for those who may be unable to afford it really resonated with my belief that financial barriers should not impact a person’s ability to receive the support they need. Thanks to the incredible support and family-like atmosphere created by my manager and the other volunteers, I quickly came to love my role so much that I still volunteer there to this day, and probably will far into the future.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that mental health services are, now more than ever, desperately needed, and my volunteering within a third sector organisation helps to ensure this support can still continue – even during a time when we must all be physically distant – by adapting to telephone and Zoom counselling for those who need it.

How volunteering impacts my health and wellbeing

As counselling involves holding a lot of confidential and sometimes difficult information for clients, one of the most important things that all counsellors must ensure they do is to take time for their own physical and mental wellbeing. These practices are directly related to my volunteering and have such a positive impact on how I feel. Whether it’s making sure I do breathing exercises, doing something I enjoy like cooking a healthy meal, going for a 30-minute walk, or keeping a gratitude diary for all the things I’m thankful for, it all adds up to make my volunteering experience – and my general wellbeing – better!

Not only are these individual actions helpful for wellbeing, but as all of the counsellors at my organisation are volunteers, the peer support network we have for sharing ideas and self-care information is fantastic – even if it has been mostly over Teams and Zoom this past year! For me to practice safely I also need to carry out 30 hours’ Continuing Professional Development a year, which is fantastic for networking and learning new information and keeps my mind curious.

Volunteering as a counsellor has not only given me confidence and the knowledge that I can make a difference to the lives of people who need help, it has also given me lasting friendships and excellent experience and transferable skills for my ongoing career. I would encourage anyone who is thinking about volunteering in any capacity to take that leap of faith and give it a go – not only will you benefit your community, but you will also see the benefits for yourself!

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