“We are very often there - if not in the foreground then in the background”
Our head of psychosocial and mental health Dr Sarah Davidson on our new psychosocial reserve volunteer initiative, in partnership with the British Psychological Society
When crises hit, particularly in the case of a major incident, it can be difficult to source people who have the right expertise and who, importantly, are familiar with our organisation.
I’ve been involved in lots of incidents both in the UK and internationally over the decades that I’ve been with the British Red Cross and increasingly what strikes me is the number of convergent volunteers we encounter: people who go to a major incident with the wish to help. Unfortunately, where psychosocial and mental health support is concerned, there’s little you can do with groups of people who want to help without prior training and some familiarity (them with the Red Cross, and the Red Cross with them), to ensure they themselves are safe and OK, and can be part of the coordinated response.
With that in mind, I am delighted that, with the support of our corporate partner Marsh & McLennan, we are now recruiting 100 chartered clinical and counselling psychologists to sign up as psychosocial reserve volunteers for the British Red Cross.
Skills, ability, and desire to help
This idea has been in our plans for a while, but was brought to life after I attended a meeting at the European Federation of Psychological Associations, where the British Psychological Society was hosting its equivalents from around Europe.
I spoke about our response following the London terrorist attacks in 2017 and the Grenfell Tower fire, and discussed how those convergent volunteers present an opportunity but also a risk. I thought, wouldn’t it be good if we could find a way to use chartered psychologists who have the skills, ability and desire to help? One of the hosts told me that in fact the Australian Red Cross has a relationship with the Australian Psychological Society doing exactly that, which made us want to make this happen in the UK too.
Our recruitment model is very much based on our successful community reserve volunteers* model. The recruitment process is very light touch and the only training potential volunteers need is via a series of short essential online courses, followed by a five-hour workshop on Zoom with my team and the national crisis response team.
Providing direct and indirect support where it's needed
When our teams are deployed in the aftermath of an incident, the national crisis response team will ask local responders whether they need more specialist psychosocial and mental health input. The nearest psychosocial staff/volunteers will be deployed, which will include the psychosocial reserve volunteers.
After the Grenfell Tower fire, both our psychosocial support team and our psychosocial and mental health team were involved in a myriad of ways. We were on site at the community assistance centre, giving support to staff and volunteers who were providing the direct support to people affected by the fire, and we were also in the family and friends assistance centre providing direct support to families who were bereaved and/or survivors of the fire.
AFTER THE GRENFELL TOWER FIRE, OUR TEAMS WERE INVOLVED IN A MYRIAD OF WAYS.
In connection with the local Mental Health NHS Trust, we set up outreach pairs, which saw our crisis responders working with psychologists and other staff from the Mental Health Trust to go out and make sure people in the community who hadn’t come to the assistance centre were OK. We also provided clinical supervision to Red Cross caseworkers who were supporting families remotely. There are so many roles we can play, and these are roles a psychosocial reserve volunteer could play too.
We are very often there, if not in the foreground then in the background.
This initiative is about supporting the amazing skills we have within our frontline services. We know that the staff and volunteers who are delivering support really appreciate being able to go and get some support in the forms of reflective practice, clinical supervision, consultation and/or advice on how to best support someone who might be very distressed, angry, agitated or suicidal after an incident. It can be helpful for them to feel confident and competent in responding to people in crisis, and to know there are specialists alongside them who can provide them with support, and join them when needed.
THERE ARE SO MANY OPPORTUNITIES FOR OTHER PSYCHOLOGISTS IN WORKING WITH OUR ORGANISATION.
It will be brilliant for us as an organisation to have more specialists in mental health who can really ensure that what we provide is holistic, thinking about both the physical and mental health of the people we help. I do genuinely think as a psychologist who has worked for the British Red Cross and has volunteered for years, that there are so many opportunities for other psychologists in working with our organisation.
Learn more about becoming a psychosocial reserve volunteer.
* Recruitment for Community Reserve Volunteer roles has now paused, but will re-open soon. Find other volunteering roles.
Read more of our work on mental health and wellbeing:
Emergencies in the UK
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