27 Aug Spotlight on Victim Support Online (VSO) : Interview with Lucy, one of our volunteers
This is the third instalment of our themed month on Victim Support Online. Victim Support Online is an online service for victims of crime offered by Victim Support Malta, in partnership with SOS Malta. For more info check out :www.vso.org.mt
Today we interviewed Lucy, volunteer with VSO.
Hi Lucy!Thanks for your time today. VSO has been up and running for 3 months now. What has it been like to volunteer for the service?
VSO is the kind of service that allows us to take control of our lives in a small, yet accessible way. While emotional support doesn’t begin and end here, it’s a step that is literally at our fingertips. As this is quite a new venture, I would say that volunteers have been met with open arms and any criticism or suggestion we had was taken seriously and, if viable, implemented. We were also not thrown into the deep-end straight away, which I think is quite important considering who we want our potential contacts to be. We always have a mentor available to discuss matters with and assist us. The training that we are given, and the contact with our mentor throughout is necessary and useful.
The nicest thing is that we’ve been able to see how much the service has grown in just a few months with more service users contacting us now via chat or e-mail than at the start. There’s always a bit of anxiety when the numbers increase, however, the support provided by our mentors is invaluable. It ensures that this anxiety is quickly turned into eagerness to help.
What pushed you to get involved in VSO?
I really liked the idea of online emotional support, and in this day and age, a service of the kind should already exist and be in full blast even in Malta. A great deal of people’s pastime is spent online and it’s a very feasible concept to realise in spite of a small island such as ours. More and more people seem to be getting increasingly comfortable behind a screen and if this is now the route that needs to be taken to reach people then I don’t see why it shouldn’t be embraced. Everybody deserves to be heard and no restrictions should be placed on our channels of communication that may stand in the way of this.
What do you think is the most challenging aspect of VSO?
I can only speak from my own experience, but for me it’s that we’re not actually therapists. Not always, but usually, people who pursue volunteer work want to make a difference – they want to help. And while as a VSO volunteer we do try to help as much as possible and direct our service users to where they can find professional help, there’s only so much we can actually do as volunteers. While we are trained to know what to do and how to go about doing it, we’re only human, and the emotional investment that comes with connecting with one another is something we are naturally susceptible to.
What have you learnt volunteering with VSO?
I’ve learnt that everybody needs help sometimes and there’s no shame in asking for it. This might seem like a cliché, but the repercussions silence can have on one’s mental health are too great to ignore.
Have you provided face-to-face emotional support before? If yes, what do you think are the similarities and differences between face-to-face and online support?
I have not provided face-to-face support previously, so I wouldn’t be able to adequately comment on the differences. As with most online services, I would imagine that convenience is the biggest factor that might sway some towards one more than the other. Online services allow an individual to be able to access them wherever they are, rather than having to be in a specific location. However, I would also argue that some things are gained from face-to-face support that aren’t readily found in the opposite. Namely, a lot of non-verbal communication is missed out on and you can only take what you are being told at face value. While most can express themselves quite well through text and others can easily recognise subtext, this isn’t always the case and there are those who still find it easier to communicate in person.
What do you think is the relationship between face-to-face support and online support? Should one be preferred over the other?
You can’t have one without the other – I think this is something that works best together. They each have their strengths and weaknesses, but it would be unwise to say that one can entirely replace the other entirely without detrimental consequences, at least for the time being. People work better and express more in a variety of mediums and if someone is trying to reach out.
Do you think VSO has the potential to grow in Malta?
Definitely. We’ve had a few service users who mentioned that they were just testing the service out to decide whether to continue speaking with us. A service such as this might be what is needed to bridge the gap that is currently present between realising you need professional support and actually seeking it.
I admit that there is only so much even a service like VSO can do. We try to empower people to help themselves, but only the users themselves can act towards this. Perhaps in a small way we can reduce the unnecessary stigma associated with seeking professional support and possibly help encourage those who may be too anxious to make initial contact through a face-to-face medium to use our service as a stepping stone.
Thanks for the chat Lucy!