Confidential support Now celebrating its 15 year anniversary, the Listening Friends programme has evolved over the years to meet the ever-changing demands of the profession. It prides itself on offering free, impartial and confidential support to those in need, and what makes it unique is that at its core is a dedicated group of trained volunteer pharmacists, so it’s all about pharmacists helping other pharmacists.Not only does this make the conversations easier, it also means that there is common ground between the caller and the volunteer and an understanding of the complexities of the role. The service isn’t just restricted to work-related problems, offering support for all causes of stress such as ill-health, family issues and bereavement. For older beneficiaries and those who could perhaps benefit from a little more personal face-to-face contact, the charity also offers a Home Visitor service which is a new addition to the range.
Pharmacist Supports’ team of volunteers get a real sense of satisfaction from their work, helping people who may just need anonymity and a friendly voice to talk to. The team has a common goal and they all work hand-in-hand to ensure best possible practice. The charity provides ongoing volunteer support to ensure the team is in tune with latest industry developments and listening techniques. All volunteers must attend two weekend training sessions a year, which are developed and led by the scheme’s four co-ordinators. External speakers are brought in to cover specific topics, such as dealing with bereavement, loss and addiction, and to provide updates on pre-registration training. These weekends also act as a place for the volunteers to network, share best practice, air their concerns and discuss complex issues they may be struggling with. This is often aided by role play scenarios. The Listening Friends co-ordinators and head office team in Manchester are also on hand between training should any volunteer require additional support or guidance.
The Listening Friends service is crucial because pharmacy can be a lonely profession, particularly in community where pharmacists may have little peerto- peer contact. It is difficult often to explain problems to friends and family however well meaning as they do not have the direct experience of the role.
From the charity’s perspective, its volunteers are their frontline team. They are devoted individuals who give up their time for free to help others. Diane Leicester, Charity Manager, concludes: “Our scheme has proven to be a real lifeline to users over the years and its success is down to the dedication of many people. Charity staff and our trustees would like to take this opportunity to thank all of those volunteers involved with Listening Friends since its inception. We look forward to working with our 40 existing volunteers to ensure that this support is available to those who may need it in another 15 years.”
Friends that listen
There are a total of 40 volunteers across Great Britain who have made a huge difference to so many people’s lives, without even meeting them. Here, we chat to some of the amazing people who make the Listening Friends scheme what it is.
Case study 1:
Madeleine has worked as a pharmacist in hospital community and prison settings, as a lecturer in further and higher education and has owned her own pharmacy and post office.
“I volunteered because I have gained a great deal in my life from being a pharmacist and I wanted to give something back. This was a way in which I could use my vast experience, but in a focused fashion. I had been a CPPE tutor for many years and realised the very real anxieties that pharmacists felt. I did consider volunteering for the Samaritans but thought Listening Friends was somewhere where my specific experience would help.
“I get satisfaction from volunteering, helping people who may just need a friendly voice to talk to and who find the anonymity useful. I continue to enjoy a most rewarding career, and I do appreciate that there were times in my life – and that of other pharmacists – when it would have helped to talk to someone who understood. I have developed listening skills (which is much harder than it sounds) and learnt about myself at the same time. I have also discovered that it is important not to give advice and not to act as a pharmacist would in trying to solve people’s problems. Not all situations can be ‘cured’.” Friends that listen
Case study 2:
Tyagi joined Listening Friends 15 years ago and is one of the original volunteers. He is now one of four co-ordinators that run the scheme.
“In the beginning, we were seen as a vehicle for helping pharmacists to overcome difficulties in the practice of their work. But now, the nature of the calls has broadened to include problems of a more general and personal nature. Of course, such things as marital and financial difficulties will inevitably impinge on all areas of life including professional practice; and conversely, difficulties at work can spill over into personal life. The advantage of having a service provided by pharmacists for pharmacists is, I believe, that we can understand the sort of pressures involved.”
Case study 3:
Judy has been a listening friend since 1997. “I spent two years learning and working towards basic counselling qualifications after going for counselling when I was suffering from depression and did not want to take medication. It gradually changed my life and I hoped I might be able to help others who were going through a difficult time.
“I think that the Listening Friends service is important because sometimes in times of trouble it is easier to talk to an anonymous stranger, especially one who works in the world of pharmacy with its problems and constraints.
“Being a Listening Friend gives me an opportunity to support others who I befriend for a short time, but for as long as they need me and I can be of help to them.”
For further information on Pharmacist Support, volunteering opportunities with the Charity and the Listening Friends scheme, visit www. pharmacistsupport.org To speak with a Listening Friend call the Listening Friends confidential freephone helpline on 0808 168 5133.