An important role for volunteers to play in supporting Cancer support 06 is to become an Active Listener. Eli Cookson leads the training of Active Listeners and shared this definition of what it is:
‘When actively listening, you are fully concentrating on what is being said and not thinking about what you will say next. It means listening with a genuine desire to understand the speaker’s feelings and perspective without placing judgment. In addition, active listening involves listening with all your senses. Interest can be conveyed to the speaker by using both verbal and nonverbal cues, like nodding your head or agreeing by saying “yes” to encourage them to continue speaking. By providing these cues, the person speaking will usually feel more at ease and communicate more easily and openly. This intentional listening is not something that can be sustained for long periods of time, as it is rather tiring. Having said that it is very rewarding both for the listener and for the one who is listened to!’
For an account of active listening, this recent article offers a useful overview.
Here, Clare Harding, one of the newly trained active listeners in the Cancersupport 06 group, shares her experience of the training.
Why I wanted to become an active listener.
In the U.K. I spent 15 years nursing children with cancer ;6 years on a bone marrow transplant unit, 7 as a paediatric oncology nurse practitioner. During this time, I noted that lots of parents said it was in difficult times that you learn who your friends are. Friends offer to help but are then “unavailable” on the days / the times that help was asked for.
Parents wanted someone to pick up some shopping/ do some ironing or cleaning, allowing them to spend time with their sick child or even do fun things with siblings but often it was just to have someone to talk to, that would just listen.
When I saw that CSG 06 were looking for active listeners I immediately thought
“I have a skill that is being wasted, I should volunteer”
Who can volunteer to be an active listener?
Volunteers are often people who have known someone that has had cancer in the past or recovered from cancer themselves. Many volunteers offer help because they can offer a service such as nutritional advice, mindfulness sessions, massage, art therapy. Some because they have free time, and they want to help others. Some because they would like to give back to the charity that helped them when they were going through treatment.
Occasionally people want to do the training, then realise the timing is not quite right/ they are not in the right place, yet. Active listening can bring back emotions from past experiences. Advise and support is always available should this happen.
What does the training involve?
The training is a two full consecutive days over a weekend, some practice sessions in your own setting and then a further full day (at a weekend). Training is under the guidance of Eli Cookson a local psychotherapist. Eli works full time, so formal training sessions are at the weekend.
During the weekend the basic principles of active listening are explained, discussed, and practiced. There is lots of group work and the days are informative and fun. There are no tests, and a delicious lunch and snacks are provided by the association.
What were the association looking for?
During the training it became apparent that active listeners can volunteer as little or as much as they would like and in whatever capacity they feel comfortable. For example, because of my previous experience, I would feel comfortable sitting with someone who was dying if they were unable to have family with them and did not want to be alone but many people in the group would not be comfortable with this. Most volunteers would be willing to collect shopping for clients, driving them to appointments or having a phone or face to face conversation. Whatever you are able to offer, it is important to undertake the active listening training.
Clare Harding, January 2022
Finally, a shout out to all the volunteers who work with cancer support 06 and in particular the Active Listeners, and here’s a photo of the recently trained ones.
If you are interested in volunteering, please contact Eli Cookson on email@example.com