Befriending is playing an increasingly valuable role in supporting people in need - elderly people living more isolated lives, people with life limiting conditions, vulnerable young people or families in crisis. Research around mental wellbeing consistently affirms the positive effect that connecting with another person has on the way we feel about ourselves and the world around us. Befriending offers a unique opportunity to enhance wellbeing through the quality of the befriending relationship and the type of conversations that take place along the way.
The power of relationship
Building a relationship with someone creates a sense of belonging and self worth. It can help us feel happier and more secure, bringing a greater sense of purpose or meaning to our lives. The befriending relationship has a slightly different yet equally beneficial impact. It offers all the positive attributes of friendship, while allowing the befriendee to be themselves, without fear of being judged, criticised or feeling the pressure of having to live up to someone else’s expectations or values. A volunteer on one of our recent training programmes reported, ‘My lady says that her family try to wrap her in cotton wool. She says she feels as if she’s treated like a child. With me, she says she can really be herself ’.
It's not always about 'doing'
Often, befrienders feel they have to be actively doing something for or with their befriendee for their visit to have a beneficial impact - whether it’s an activity to share, or a state of mind where the volunteer feels the need to solve a problem for that person, or ‘make things better’. In actual fact, the power of befriending lies in the word, it’s about ‘being’ a friend. It’s not about ‘doing’ anything, but more about ‘being’ there for that person, being fully present in the moment and attentive to their needs every time you meet. The more the befriender orientates their attention towards their client, the more likely the visit or conversation will have a positive impact on their wellbeing. Over time, this helps to strengthen the relationship, making the time spent together more meaningful for both befriender and client.
Do your volunteers have the skills they need?
So, it’s important that volunteers learn the skills that build positive relationships, and the conversational approaches that can boost the positive impact we know now that befriending can have on mental and emotional wellbeing. Training volunteers in these key skills helps develop confidence and capability, so the befriending experience is a positive one for everyone involved. How far does your training resource your volunteers with these essential skills?