Self-Care and Effective Volunteering

Written by Workhorse Marketing

“In dealing with those who are undergoing great suffering, if you feel “burnout” setting in, if you feel demoralized and exhausted, it is best, for the sake of everyone, to withdraw and restore yourself. The point is to have a long-term perspective.”

-Dalai Lama

Flight attendants go over the same safety procedures before every take-off (this is the part where many of us take out our books). The attendant tells passengers to put their masks on before helping anyone else. Helping yourself first means you can better help others. Many of us don’t feel like we need to pay attention to the demonstration, especially if we are frequent flyers. We often adopt the same attitude toward self-care–the things we do to maintain our well-being–and forget to really think about it. But when we want to help others, taking care of ourselves first makes us more effective. This is why self-care is such an integral part of SafePlace volunteer training.

Self-care looks different for everyone. For one of our community educators, self-care means playing soft ball, spending time with her dog, and snapping silly putty. One of the hospital advocates who shared his experience with the group talked about going home to play with his dog after hospital visits (Unintended lesson: Dogs are GREAT for self-care).

Our volunteers are often on the front lines in the fight to end sexual assault and domestic violence. They are hospital advocates meeting rape victims in the first hours after assault, or legal advocates supporting survivors through the court process. They are on the 24-hour hotline, helping families and individuals find their way to shelter or safety plan until we can take them in. These are not easy tasks.

When volunteers are helping survivors in moments of crisis, it can be hard to remember that taking moments for ourselves is not selfish, and is instead an important part of effective service. If a hospital advocate feels triggered by a particular case and needs to take a month away from being on-call, that is a form of self-care, and that advocate will be a stronger volunteer when he or she returns. There is strength in knowing our own limits.

The June volunteer group recently completed their initial forty-hour training. Self-care was brought up at each session. Sometimes, presenters like would share their self-care practices. Other times, Langa, our Volunteer Services Manager, would ask the group members to talk about how they had practiced self-care after a difficult training.

The emphasis on self-care throughout training has impacted the way volunteers think about service. Sarah Melecki, one of our new volunteers, is joining our legal advocacy program. When she talked about becoming a legal advocate, one of the first things she said was, “I haven’t decided what my self-care will be.” Her comment shows how successful our trainers are in getting our volunteers to think about themselves so that they are more able to help others.