03 Sep Spotlight on Victim Support Online (VSO) : Interview with Mike, one of our mentors
This is the fourth and final 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 Mike, mentor with VSO.
VSO has been up and running for a few months now. What has it been like to work as a mentor for the service?
I have been working with VSO from 25th April 2016 – that makes it 5 months now; time flies fast! Working as mentor for VSO gave me the experience that I was expecting and more. I feel that I am part of the organisation, and when I suggest things, they are taken into consideration. Assisting and guiding volunteers to give that sterling service to our service users, makes me content to be working on the service myself. Having said this, many volunteers are so capable that I have to admit that I do learn from them too.
What pushed you to get involved in VSO?
I am a counsellor by profession and I help people when life’s challenges impede their holistic growth. Before becoming a counsellor, I spent 25 years of service with the Malta Police Force, where helping victims should be a priority for every staff member. Being part of VSO was like merging the two professions together, with the difference that the service was being virtually provided, but made to direct or guide service users to more traditional types of assistance.
What do you think is the most challenging aspect of VSO?
I think that the most challenging is the financing of the service. By financing I mean where advertisement is concerned.
What do you find difficult about mentoring volunteers?
Strictly speaking, experience taught me how to work with many types of people. This helps curb many difficulties if dealt at source. I find it enriching to work with volunteers from a wide range of professions, e.g. lawyers, medical doctors, psychologists and psychology students, employees in the education sector to name a few. Not all is perfect, for instance if I had to name a difficulty that might be that some volunteers are much more expressive in Maltese rather than in English, and vice versa. To tackle this issue, like in other circumstances, as mentor and volunteer, we work hand in hand to be as succinct, but to the point as possible when giving replies to service users using the chat line.
What do you think are the similarities and differences between face-to-face and online support?
Personally speaking, online support was one aspect I was hoping to experience when I applied to work with VSO. However, to go into detail about differences and similarities would require a lot of research. I am just going to share some observations based on my experience of physical and virtual support.
EMAILING: I consider that answering emails is the most straightforward experience in giving online support. Going through the service user’s email a number of times helps you give a better answer before sending your reply. This is not possible with face-to-face support. F2F requires constant attending skills to keep track of what clients are saying. As similarities one could mention paraphrasing or summarising as those attending skills to show that you have understood the client. This may both be done when writing emails, and verbally during F2F support.
ONLINE CHAT: Initially this was a challenge for me, until I realised how workable this method of support is. The differences between virtual and physical support are that in one you do not know the clients, as you cannot see them, and in the other you see them face to face! As for the similarities, I think I’d say the ethical commitment, i.e. staying loyal to the clients, giving them the support which is beneficial to them.
Which one do you prefer?
Virtual vs F2F? My main exposure in supporting clients is mostly through F2F, however experiencing virtual support with VSO made me realise that this method is also practical enough to work in circumstances where clients may not have the courage to make the first step to seek traditional F2F support. Whilst not necessary limited to cases of victimisation, before working for VSO, my experience in virtual support was on the phone or even in answering emails. What do I currently prefer? I think I can work in both settings.
Do you think VSO has the potential to grow in Malta?
I think that this question links with an earlier question. If the services offered by VSO are extensively advertised I believe that it would grow substantially – we would need to increase the number of volunteers and mentors in this case, and maybe also the days and times the service is provided.
Where to reach these victims? The media – TV, radio and the Internet…The Internet is already used. Maybe bus billboards around Malta, shops, restaurants. Brochures placed visibly in waiting areas of clinics and other organisations, where victims may sometime seek assistance.
I believe the list does not finish here, however I would like to add that word of mouth also works to raise awareness about the service!
Thanks for the chat Mike!