A trainee's story...
Note: with the restrictions put in place by the French government in response to the COVID-19 virus, SOS Help is able to provide service between the hours of 17h and 21h. Stay safe, stay home and wash your hands everyone!
The phone rang. My heart jumped. My first active call.
It had all started months earlier when I picked up a booklet of English-speaking organisations in France. I had recently taken early retirement and was looking for something useful to do with my spare time. The entry for SOS Help stood out. It said it offered empathetic, non-judgmental emotional support to those going through a difficult time. SOS were looking for volunteer listeners and I decided to apply although I had plenty of doubts as to whether I would be suitable.
I was invited to a recruitment evening at which we were given an overview of the work of SOS and the commitment expected of us. This was followed by a short interview with an existing listener which gave me the opportunity to ask some questions. I was asked to meet a psychologist a couple of weeks later as part of the initial selection process. Shortly after that I was told I had been selected for the training programme.
I turned up for the full day training on a Saturday in early November lead by a mental health professional. We were 12 trainees in total, 8 female and 4 male, of at least 5 different nationalities, ranging in age from mid-20’s to me, in my early 60’s. We were given an introduction to basic listening skills through role play and class work. It was a very interesting and thought-provoking day. It identified a major issue that I was going to have to overcome and that’s my natural inclination to propose a solution to a problem. That’s not the role of an SOS listener!
During the next 3 months there were 4 evening training sessions where we explored the various methods and techniques presented by our trainer aimed at making us more empathetic listeners. In parallel, we all started our “double-listens”. In my case, I mailed 3 listeners and asked to sit in on their 4-hour shift. I just listened and learned from them. There were some breaks between the calls so there was time to ask questions and receive a lot of wisdom. I was impressed by the calmness of the experienced listeners, even when receiving very challenging calls. For me, this was the most important part of the entire learning process and each of us took our “lessons learnt” back to share at the next evening training session.
After the 3 “passive” listens, it was time for the 3 “active” listens in which I would take the calls under the supervision of an experience listener. I was nervous waiting for the first call but my mentor’s calmness really helped. The phone rang and, happily, the training I had received seemed to cut in automatically. I was by no means perfect and on all 3 active shifts my mentors pointed out how I could perhaps have addressed something differently. I was drained at the end of each of these 4 hour shifts but I felt I was getting better and becoming more confident in my ability to show empathy and actively listen.
After what seemed an age, I received an email telling me I had successfully passed the training and that I would be accepted as a listener. It arrived on my birthday and I couldn’t have asked for a better present.
The group really bonded and I’d like to think we will all be an asset to SOS Help for years to come.
The next step for me is taking calls alone and, whilst not complacent, I feel I’ve been very well prepared thanks to the trainer and the very kind and supportive listeners with whom I did my double listens.