The virtual supporter
Chlöe Morton is a student at Coventry University. In her spare time she's a virtual volunteer Supporter on the self-harm website RecoverYourLife.com. Here she talks about her role and how it helps people who use the site.
My role as a virtual volunteer
I'm a virtual volunteer on a website called RecoverYourLife.com (RYL). It is predominantly a self-harm support website. However, because self-harm/self-injury is known as a coping mechanism, the site accommodates for most of the reasons why people would self harm. These include substance abuse, eating disorders, people experiencing abuse or bullying, mental health problems and much more. There is also a place where people who are 'moving forward' from self-harm can find the support and advice they need.
I have been a 'supporter' on the website for two years. I heard about the opportunity through a friend, empathised with the people posting for help and started to sporadically respond to them. I was then asked to be one of the first official supporters on the website. My role is to listen, empathise and to signpost to more information people might find helpful.
We aren't professional counsellors or advisors and ensure that the users know this. Most supporters have encountered difficult life experiences themselves and use these personal experiences to further their support. We're not substitutes for professional help - our role is to listen more than to give advice.
Using technology to volunteer
The internet has been essential to the project. We have 15 Supporters all over the world, in Australia, America and England, so we need something that can connect us all. The website uses a tool called Live Help, which is similar to msn messenger. It's a program commonly used by sales assistants to help customers navigate an online shopping website, but we use it as a place where people can discuss their concerns or issues in real time. It's password protected so we can access the tools from any computer with internet access.
There's also a chat room, which also acts as a real-time instant messenger service for multiple members to discuss problems, as well as general chat for distraction and talking to like-minded people.
The internet has been essential to the project. We have 15 supporters all over the world, in Australia, America and England, so we need something that can connect us all.
As Supporters we have access to private forums where we can keep up-to-date information of consenting members. This is kept entirely confidential and helps us keep in touch with their progress and decisions to access professional support.
Giving and getting support
The Supporters are also a very tight-knit group who are there for each other and understand that one another's wellbeing is key - it's very difficult to look after other people without looking after yourself. Working with us on the website are Moderators who maintain the website guidelines and medically trained first aid advisors.
The website helps to keep people from harming themselves or ending their own lives. It's there for people to talk their way through difficult times, receive support or post creative materials (such as poems and stories) to express themselves.
What's in it for me
As supporters we have our own email account and it's really nice when I receive thank you messages from people I've helped - it really makes it worthwhile!
I'm currently doing a Psychology degree at Coventry University and plan to train as a Clinical Psychologist and this experience has really opened my eyes. I feel that I have heard or read most things in life and I have developed a confidence to talk about all topics, especially those that are currently seen as taboo subjects like self-harm..
Photo by Sanja Gjenero
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