Samreen learns how to be a more active listener

Written by our fantastic Helpline volunteer, Samreen

I was initially drawn to Samaritans because of the deep impact of their work and the supportive community they create and nurture. I wanted a volunteering opportunity that exposed me to different kinds of people, their life events, emotions, and resilience. My interview for the Helpline volunteer position in March 2017 was unique. I was asked how I indulge in self-care, a question I had never been evaluated on before. I got choked up during the interview when describing my experiences with loved ones who struggled with mental health. The application process showed me that Samaritans encouraged vulnerability and self-awareness in their community. Three years and counting, I feel fortunate to be part of a space that is determinedly centered on promoting mental well-being.

In training, I learned how to be an active listener. During role-plays, it was eye opening to see the impact of asking an open-ended question, such as “how does that make you feel?” as opposed to an either-or question, such as “does that make you feel good or bad?” The former framing gave the caller room to think through their feelings. Through feedback in role-plays, I also learned how to assess each caller’s needs and customize active listening techniques accordingly.

During my initial calls, I was nervous to prompt a stranger to talk about their pain. All my life, I had been programmed to deviate from the unpleasantness of one’s life and to remind them of the bountiful blessings that they had. But after taking a few calls, I realized the power of digging deeper into the pain. It gives others a chance to work through their difficult feelings themselves — a chance we often deprive people of because it feels more satisfactory to take charge of solving their problems. When I pick up the phone during my volunteering shifts, I have no idea who I will be talking to and how they will react to my choice of words. But Samaritans’ training and experience has now made me comfortable to direct any stranger to talk about what is hurting them rather than pivot the conversation towards the positive aspects of their life.

My experience at Samaritans has had a tremendous impact on how I listen to others and to myself. Now I embrace feeling down, and don’t make others or myself defend being upset. I have realized that acknowledging the pain helps rather than hurts. Since becoming a more active listener, I have seen my friends and family open up to me more than before. Samaritans has taught me that when we are struggling, all we need is someone to listen rather than advise, to validate than to deviate, and to tell us “it sucks” as opposed to saying “you will be okay.” Someone to direct us inward through questions and empathetic ears, so we can be empowered to arrive at the thought, “I think I will be okay.”

We are so grateful to Samreen for her dedication and service to people in need. If you’re interested in volunteering at Samaritans, visit our Volunteering page to learn more and complete the Volunteer Inquiry Form