SFU Nightline: An Interview with Volunteer Shiva Manavipour

I recently had the opportunity to interview a volunteer for the SFU Nightline. The Nightline offers students and the SFU community someone to talk to confidentially – it’s open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and run fully by volunteers. If you’re considering working there, Shiva Manavipour offers some insight on what it’s like.

What is your educational background?

I am currently completing my Bachelor’s of General Studies in Education – I’m in my 4th year.  I am doing a minor in human development and counseling and took many counseling psychology courses. I also plan on doing my Master’s in counseling, so you can see why I was interested in this job.

How did you find out about this position, and how did you get hired?

I saw the posters on campus and was intrigued. It seemed like a great way for me to begin getting experience in my field of study. I applied for the Nightline position through Volunteer Services as a Peer Educator.

How long did you volunteer?
Two semesters.

Are there any educational or professional requirements to volunteer?
Students from all faculties can work for the nightline. Though some volunteers are psychology students, all that’s really needed is interest and dedication in supporting the students in your community. All volunteers go through a comprehensive training session before starting – that teaches them everything they need to know to be successful.

What happens during training?
The training session takes two weeks, roughly every day. We are provided a manual of duties, responsibilities and procedures to read and we go through the manual during training. We are taught how to respond to the caller by adjusting our tone of voice, the words we use, but most importantly to listen attentively. We prepare ourselves for the different scenarios we may encounter by role playing.

What are the shifts like?
We all work from home, which is very convenient. Volunteers are provided with pagers and cellphones. Once a call comes in they receive a page and they respond by calling a call center, which connects the volunteer to the caller.  Since the nightline is open on weekdays from 4:30 pm – 8:30 am, volunteers have to stay up during the night to make sure they can answer incoming calls.  On weekends, the nightline is open 24 hours a day, from 8:30 am on Saturday to 8:30 am on Sunday, and  another volunteer does a second shift from Sunday morning until Monday morning. There were 11 volunteers when I was there, so I only had t­­o take one weekend shift per month.  It’s not as bad as it sounds. – you can just hang out on the couch while you wait for calls!

During or after each call, we fill out a form with all the information about the call.

How does the volunteer team communicate with each other?
Every two weeks, our team would meet to debrief on all the calls we had. We would discuss where we were strong and where we struggled, and share tips on how to improve in future situations. Debriefing was also a good way to know about all our fellow volunteers’ callers in case callers called back – we’d be aware of  the context of their next call.

What is the time commitment for volunteers?
All volunteers are expected to work one day during the work week and one day over the weekend.

What happens if you get a caller that makes you uncomfortable?
That can happen. There is always a supervisor on-call who can either take over for us, or give us advice on what to say or do.

What did you gain from volunteering?
This was my first experience in a counselling environment, and my supervisor Wayne Heaslip helped me to understand how counselling services work. I got to help others and learned to be an attentive listener – I developed more empathy for people and became more aware of the way my intonation and manners impacted the way I communicated with others. Not only did I gain counselling experience, but also skills I can use in my working and personal relationships. I also got a great reference after completing my work term.

What were some of the difficult aspects of volunteering there?
Sometimes it was hard  to avoid identifying with people who had problems similar to mine. I had to be conscious that I stayed neutral with my responses and avoided getting too emotionally involved. I had to find the solution that was right for them, not for me. It was difficult also to receive calls from people that were manically depressed or in the midst of a very difficult time in their lives. I learned not to internalize the struggles of the callers thanks to the debriefings with my fellow teammates. We were also given excellent advice on self-care, which refers to the ways we can take care of ourselves after an intense, high-stress call.

Can you share some advice from what you’d learned working there?

One of the most important things I learned was that I was there to listen, not give advice. After all, I can’t possibly know the whole story based on what the caller would tell me, so how can I think I know what’s best for them to do? That lesson has helped me within my own relationships – oftentimes, we think we can identify with someone elses problems or situation, but we must remember that everyone’s situation varies.

Can you offer some advice on dealing with exam stress?
Nothing that hasn’t been said before! Do your best not to cram, get a good night’s sleep, and eat a well balanced meal – make sure to have a banana. When you need to calm yourself, take deep breaths.  I know it’s basic, but that really is my best advice!

Shiva is currently the Education Representative at SFU. She is assisting with the financing to continue the SFU Nightline Service. She can be contacted at edurep@sfss.ca

If you’d like to volunteer, visit the Health & Counselling Services website.

For more information, visit the SFU Nightline Homepage.

By Sonya Reznitsky