September 23, 2015

Discovering the Power of Listening: Volunteering at SOS Help

The WICE Blog is presenting this guest post to spread awareness of this important service to expats in France.

By Rachel Mead*

I first contacted SOS Help – an English-language listening line based in Paris – to find out about its volunteering opportunities just one year ago, but I feel it has permanently and positively changed my ideas about listening.

When I started the training, I expected that most of the people calling up would be in crisis and acutely distressed. What I quickly learned was that while the callers are generally experiencing some form of emotional strain, their reason for calling and their way of speaking about it varies hugely.

People call about wide-ranging issues such as loneliness, financial difficulties, unemployment, difficulties integrating into French life, physical and mental health concerns, bereavement and relationship difficulties. While it’s true that the callers are sometimes distraught, even suicidal, they can also simply want to let off some steam or even treat their particular situation with wry humor.

The helpline really is for anyone experiencing any kind of difficult life experience.

SOS Help is neither a religious nor a political organisation and the other listeners I have met are from a range of nationalities, ages and backgrounds.

Twice a year, SOS Help holds recruitment information sessions at The American Church in Paris for people who live in the Paris region and can commit to at least 15 months with the organisation. They also need to be able to commit to three shifts and one ongoing training meeting per month.  

The next sessions will be held on:
Tuesday, September 29
Thursday, October 8
Wednesday, October 14

For people who want to get involved but can’t commit to that length or amount of time, the organisation also recruits supporters to set up fundraising events, help with publicity or in the general running of the organisation. 

Before training begins, every listener goes through two interviews: one with an experienced listener and the other with a professional psychologist to gauge their suitability for this kind of role.