Why Psychology Graduate Students Make Perfect Crisis Center Volunteers

Editor’s Note: When most people think about skilled volunteering, they think lawyers, doctors, mechanics, writers, marketers… but skilled volunteers come in all shapes and sizes, each with their own set of challenges and rewards. Here is an article about finding volunteers with the right skills for a crisis center.

Guest post by Casey Wheeler

Psychology graduate students have the skills needed to be crisis center volunteersIf you are a manager or recruiter for a crisis center, you know how important it is to find committed volunteers. On top of this, you also need volunteers who are emotionally and mentally capable of listening to and seeing things that, at times, may be unsettling. There are many people who have these qualifications, but there is one sub-group of people that is particularly suited for this type of work: psychology graduate students.

Crisis centers can benefit from recruiting volunteers with psychology degrees, because many topics in psychology can be applied to crisis counseling, including the following four:

Knowledge of Therapy Techniques

Crisis center volunteers often provide basic counsel to people who have experienced suicidal thoughts, domestic violence, sexual assault or abuse, substance abuse, and other traumatic events. Although volunteers are trained to handle these situations, crisis centers could benefit from recruiting counselors who already have backgrounds in psychology and therapy techniques. Because psychology grad students are required to learn similar information in school, they should find it easy to learn and apply the counseling methods used at crisis centers.

Knowledge of and Ability to Recognize Mental Illness

Not all victims of tragedy suffer from mental illness, but some do. Volunteers who recognize the difference between normal behavior and mental illness will know when a person needs additional professional help, and this knowledge could help save a life.

There is a fine line between temporary, situational sadness and chronic depression; volunteers with psychology degrees may find it easier to distinguish between the two, because they have learned the indicators of mental illness.

Trained to Handle Confidential Information

As part of their curriculum, psychology students are taught the legal importance of keeping information that is shared in therapy confidential, unless someone’s life is in danger. This same commitment to confidentiality applies to crisis center counselors. With the knowledge they received in school, volunteers with psychology degrees should know how to handle confidential information appropriately and when and how to report information to a manager or to the police.

Familiar with Counseling Ethics

In addition to keeping information confidential, there are other standards that apply to crisis center counseling. Some volunteer counselors learn about these standards during their training, but volunteers with psychology degrees should already know them by heart.

Counseling ethics is an important subject that is taught in all psychology programs, so grad students should understand the importance of ethics, as well as the consequences of unethical behavior. Recruiting volunteers with this kind of knowledge is vital to maintaining a reputable crisis center.

Are you interested in bringing on more volunteers with backgrounds in psychology? The best place to start is at your local university or college (if it has a psychology department). A few great places to post information on campus about how to volunteer include the career center, graduate school, and the alumni center. Different college campuses may have different rules for recruiting volunteers on campus, so be sure you know these rules before proceeding with your recruiting plans.

Casey Wheeler is a freelance writer and career counselor with a degree in psychology. Using his educational and professional background as a foundation, Casey most enjoys writing about anything related to psychology and learning. He also regularly writes for www.OnlinePsychologyDegree.net, a great resource for students interested in pursuing an online degree in psychology. Please leave your questions or comments for Casey below.