I’ll be there for you… (Student Case Study)

Since August last year I have volunteered as a Child Bereavement Counsellor at Holding on Letting Go (HOLG) – a Kent-based charity which supports children and young people after the loss of a loved one. At HOLG, children, young people and their parents/carers come for a weekend of bereavement support. Throughout the weekend, the children work with their designated helpers, thinking about the person they have lost; ways to hold on the good memories and let go of the painful or upsetting thoughts and feelings. This is done through a combination of group discussion, arts and crafts, sand-tray and storyboard story-telling, and games.

HOLG has provided me with formal training in bereavement counselling and child safeguarding. Having just completed my undergraduate psychology degree at Kent, HOLG has been a unique way to build up my clinical experience. Direct clinical contact experience is essential for moving forward in my long-term plan of attaining a place on a post-graduate clinical psychology training course.

The role at HOLG has provided me with the opportunity to work directly with clients, from a variety of backgrounds, in a psychologically-minded way. Working therapeutically with young people in creative ways has broadened my skill set and my concept of psychological support. The HOLG volunteer team is comprised of multidisciplinary professionals (from nurses and social workers to educational psychologists and teachers), who have supported my learning and professional development by welcoming me fully to the workforce and encouraging me to take new tasks and challenges.

Within this role I have worked in a group setting and one-to-one with the young people, providing support across different stages of grief. The role has built on previous experience from my placement year (in child and adolescent mental health) and on my theoretical knowledge of child development, art and systemic therapy, and loss and bereavement. It has also boosted my confidence enormously, as even the most qualified and senior members of the workforce encourage and value my contributions to team discussions, despite my comparative lack of experience. I have also helped to promote HOLG to prospective volunteers at a University of Kent careers evening, by giving a talk about what I do as a Child Bereavement Volunteer for them, alongside the project manager.

The work I do at HOLG is more rewarding that I can put into words. Seeing the transformation of the children from when they arrive on the Saturday morning – anxious, timid and often tearful – to how they leave on the Sunday afternoon – inspired, empowered and often full of laughter – makes me so honoured, humbled even, to be part of such a fantastic organisation. For a long time I have planned to follow a career path which will include direct work with people and support their mental health needs in some way. Prior to taking up the role at HOLG, I had really only considered looking for post-graduate work within the NHS, for example as an Assistant Psychologist, however now I am looking at jobs right across the charity sector. In this way, as well as in the direct experience and training gained, volunteering at HOLG has broadened my career prospects immeasurably.

-Holly Summers is a 3rd year Applied Psychology with Clinical Psychology student

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