I joined Beat as a digital volunteer in August 2021. As a psychology PhD student, I’m interested in improving people’s mental wellbeing. Currently, I am researching new methods for improving the way people feel about their bodies. I also really like to speak to new people and hear about their experiences. I wanted to be a digital volunteer so I could help people with eating and body image concerns and learn more about their individual experiences.
As a digital volunteer, I spend one evening a week providing support and guidance to people via the Beat webchat. No shift is ever the same. Sometimes, I speak to people who are worried about their eating and have built up the courage to share their worries with someone for the first time. Other times, I speak to people who are receiving treatment for an eating disorder, but would like advice to better understand or challenge their treatment plan. Sometimes, I talk to people who have recovered from an eating disorder, but are struggling to cope and worried about relapsing. I also talk to people who are worried about a friend or family member with an eating disorder. No matter the chat, it has always been a rewarding experience to help someone access the support they need. It feels amazing to empower and encourage people as they navigate through their recovery journey.
Initially, it felt daunting to respond to web chats. I had a lot of imposter syndrome and worried that I wasn’t going to provide the appropriate support. I thought it would be challenging to communicate effectively via the web chats, because you are just using your words to communicate, and not other cues we normally use in conversation, like facial expressions, eye contact, and tone of voice. However, Beat provided an in-depth and thorough training programme. We covered a range of topics, including the treatment and medical provision available for someone suffering from an eating disorder, how to handle safeguarding concerns, and how to manage professional boundaries. We also learnt to use motivational interviewing, which means we guide people to find their own motivation for changing their eating behaviours. We listen to people and help them to make their own decisions, rather than tell them they need to change their behaviours.
On top of the training, we also have a supervisor during each shift who can answer any questions and help us with challenging chats. After each shift, we participate in a debrief with our supervisor, so we can talk about the webchats and raise any concerns. We also take part in monthly clinical supervision sessions, where we can access support from a supervisor or other web chat volunteers. These monthly sessions are an opportunity to reflect on our volunteering experiences and connect with other volunteers. They ensure we feel comfortable and confident with our ability to provide appropriate support on the web chats.
Overall, volunteering with Beat has been an incredible experience. It’s a part of my week where I feel like I am really helping people. Whether it’s helping someone to navigate treatment options, to supporting a person who is worried about a loved one. It feels like a privilege to help people get the support they need.
Contributed by Thea