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Why I volunteer: To help young people move on after bereavement

Author: Danielle Mills
31 July 2017

Danielle Mills is a Counselling and Emotional Support Service Volunteer at Treetops Hospice in Derbyshire. She works with children and teenagers, and explains the importance of counselling young people as early as possible.

I first came to Treetops in 2005. I had just been discharged from hospital and although I was not ready to go back to work, I knew I wanted to.

I approached Treetops, as I had already started volunteering in their charity shop in Sandiacre which I absolutely loved, but I always knew I wanted to be a counsellor. My background is working in mental health and support work and I wanted to be able to volunteer at the actual hospice.

Their ten-week course was life-changing. I think I had always had some difficulties around the idea of death, and the course completely changed how I viewed death, dying and life-limiting conditions. Unfortunately I then got a job, so I did not end up being able to volunteer, but if it had not been for that I would not have got back into work to start with.

As the years went on I trained as a counsellor getting more experience, and I always wanted to come back to Treetops because I had loved all the support I had.  Also since then, my friend’s dad accessed their Hospice at Home service and my friend, her sister and her mum all used the bereavement support service.

I started as a volunteer counsellor in February this year, and it is great to be able to work within a really supportive environment where the training is amazing.

People love coming here. It feels like a safe place, a place where they want to come. For young people, counselling and therapy can be quite scary. They imagine people wearing suits and they are really shocked when they see someone with pink hair and jeans. We might play board games or we might just chat, and it gives them a really good experience of therapy.

My youngest client is just seven years old, and I work with young people through to the age of 18. They could have experienced a bereavement of any kind, a sudden death or suicide for example, not just a bereavement of someone who has used the hospice’s services.

Some of our younger clients might not be old enough to understand what has actually happened to their loved one, but they might want to talk about death more generally, or come back when they hit another developmental age and need to process that person not being there at that stage of their life. Or their understanding has changed and they have learnt more about what happened.

For me, I very much notice that there are increasing numbers of young people having more and more issues, and this service provides the opportunity to start working with people a bit earlier than statutory services. Getting that early intervention is really important, acknowledging that grief can affect other areas of a young person’s life.

Bereavement clients can also come back – the door is open for them to return as a young person and as an adult. There is so much other support that people can access through the service like complementary therapy, it does not just stop.

Counselling makes me feel like I am part of a family that provides unconditional support for people around death and dying. I do not feel like I am on my own which is important when you are working with difficult issues.

I think it is really important to be able to offer support to trainee counsellors, to really make sure they are working at the best possible level, and it is setting up those counsellors for the future. People do not leave, even when they are qualified, which I think says something.

I enjoy coming here. I bounce out because even though we are dealing with very difficult things we are doing it in a positive way. We see how young people can move forward and reach their potential, carrying these issues with them rather than in spite of them.  They do not have to forget about the person they have lost, they can become part of their story in a positive way.

For more information visit Treetops Hospice

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