My NHS volunteer role helped me achieve my ultimate dream -qualifying as a Solicitor

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James Hathaway, Advanced Legal Practice student, talks about his furlough experience

James smiling at the camera in a suit

During 2020 I was furloughed for a number of months, I was undertaking my masters in law alongside my employment following my LPC course.

All of my academic studies and work experience relate to law. I have always been interested in psychology, studying this at A level, but had no real experience. My cousin was working at a crisis centre and hearing of this work re-sparked this interest, leading me to apply for a volunteering role for Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership.

After an initial interview they offered me a volunteer role as Assistant Ward Psychologist on the Silver Birch Ward. This was an acute adult inpatient ward for individuals who were incapable of supporting themselves outside of hospital due to complex mental health care needs.

I assisted the Ward Psychologist to implement and trial a new bibliotherapy session for the patients. This involved designing a programme that would focus on a specific theme each session and finding texts that were appropriate for this. The focus of this particular programme was poetry as it was proven to be effective in getting patients to talk about powerful emotions without it being too direct.

Part of this work involved reading research papers on this topic. The Ward Phycologist had been wanting to trial this for some time but did not have the staffing available. Through the hours I offered as a volunteer this allowed implementation of this session as well as the admin support needed for searching for materials and record keeping of the sessions.

The sessions proved extremely popular with service users who gave positive feedback, with some requesting certain texts and literature to be incorporated. This also provided useful insight for the psychologist. I would take notes on individuals reactions to the texts and their interactions with the group. We would later discuss these and assess the responses.

I also helped create a guide by writing collections all of the texts used, the themes and overviews of the responses received for other NHS services to implement their own bibliotherapy sessions.

I knew this experience would help develop my interpersonal and communication skills, both of these are key elements to my legal work. This work took place in a challenging environment where noticing and reacting to individuals social ques were key. This helped me learn a lot about body language and its role in communication.

I learned so much during this role, the Ward Phycologist I assisted noted my keen interest and offered me to read their research papers on the subject. This gave me a detailed insight to a profession where I had previously had none. Reading these papers also gave me a chance to practice my academic skills in analysis and research.

I also developed effective note taking skills whilst still remaining engaged and present. This has proven to be a valuable transferrable skill for my work I had not initially considered.

The feedback to our bibliotherapy session was so positive service users successfully requested it be permanently implemented. This whole experience has helped me to maintain my confidence in my abilities during an uncertain period in my working life. Being furloughed impacted my confidence and started to impact my mental wellbeing, volunteering helped me to continue to feel valued and maintain confidence in my skills.

This volunteer role has assisted me in achieving my Trainee Contract and my ultimate dream as qualifying as a Solicitor. This has given me a powerful insight into the impact volunteering can have. I would definitely consider volunteering again in any area as even a small commitment can have a large impact on others wellbeing.

United Nation Sustainable Development Goals 3 and 11. Goal 3 is good health and wellbeing. Goal 11 is sustainable cities and communities

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