National Volunteer Week is April 15th-21st. Read CMHA WW volunteer Brianne’ story about what she’s learned from her experience:
I applied to volunteer with CMHA WW in the summer between the second and third year of my psychology degree at the University of Guelph. My first volunteer position was a Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy and Mindfulness group for teenagers. I had no idea what to expect when I walked into the room on the first day, and it soon became clear that working with this group was going to be a unique experience.
The group facilitator encouraged me and the other volunteer to treat the sessions as therapy for ourselves by remaining open and vulnerable. This way, we could lead and inspire the teenagers we were supporting through modeling our own example.
I’m not going to lie to you – this felt really strange at first. I had always assumed that as a someone in a therapist type of role, it would be important to ‘have it all together.’ However, what I learned was that the teenagers we were there to support were willing to share their stories and challenges because they felt encouraged by us sharing our own struggles.
I am currently volunteering with this group for my third time, and I have personally witnessed young people make huge leaps of progress in just a few weeks, with some teenagers going from being unwilling to speak, to laughing, crying, sharing, and making friends with the other group members. I have learned a ton about supporting teenagers with mental health challenges, how to hold their stories in my heart without letting them consume me, the importance of self-care, and insight into how to handle my own issues.
A few years ago, I was watching Grey’s Anatomy on Netflix and heard Dr. Arizona Robbins refer to children as “tiny humans.” It stuck with me. In my second experience volunteering with CMHA WW, as a Supportive Child Care Volunteer in the Through the Eyes of a Child group, I learned that children are complex individuals deeply affected by their personal experiences.
Taken together, my CMHA WW experiences have only served to increase my passion for supporting vulnerable children and their families. Most importantly, I have gained a deep understanding that it is an immense privilege to be able to walk with a child or adolescent in their journey, and that every breakthrough they have is a moment to celebrate.
This September, I will enter a master’s program in child clinical psychology and I credit my time at CMHA WW in a large part for helping to prepare me for that future.