Providing support

helping hand counselling

Curtis Ruhnau recently participated in the PSS volunteer training program. He describes a moving and inspiring experience, one of great importance to all pharmacists

Curtis Ruhnau is the PDL representative on the Pharmacist Support Service (PSS) Board of Management. 

When I first chose to become involved with PSS I knew what I’m sure most pharmacists know of PSS- they exist. Beyond that the details were a little sketchy. Who are they? Where are they? What do they really do?

After going through the process of training as a volunteer I can tell you that not only is the service desperately needed and much appreciated by those who have used it, it’s also run by and staffed by an incredible bunch of passionate and caring pharmacists.

The training starts with an email from the service’s Executive Officer with some pre-reading and some food for thought. It includes a short couple of pages on whether we would feel comfortable helping a person in various situations. They include some interesting areas like religious beliefs, fraud, misconduct of various kinds and they prompt some deep thought before I’ve even met anybody else.

When turning up to the training I’m greeted by a dozen other prospective volunteer pharmacists. They are obviously from all facets of life- age, gender, religion- but are all there to learn how to better help others. The introductions are short but fun and then it’s into the work. For the next two days (8:30-5:30 both days over a single weekend) we learn a lot about ourselves, how we relate to the world and the people around us and how to be our most supportive selves on the phone to someone who really needs help.

Role playing

We learn, we role play (who doesn’t love role plays!), we think and we connect with each other.

We spend a half day with Lindy MacGregor, an expert in suicide alertness and suicide prevention training, discussing how we would recognise the signs of someone in dire need who might be contemplating suicide. We learn to face our own preconceptions and ask openly whether someone on the other end of the line is hurting enough to take their own life. We learn how to deal with it when the answer to that question is yes, and what to do and say when the answer is “No, but…”

We learn how the service operates, how rosters are filled, how the phones are provided to each volunteer for their ‘roster’.

And we learn about confidentiality and anonymity- two foundations of the PSS. We learn that because the phone calls all come through to the PSS 1300 244 910 number and are then directed to the phone which is on call at the time, neither caller nor volunteer knows who they are talking to. But we also learn that if someone’s life is in danger we need to ask enough questions to be able to encourage them to seek help or in dire cases send help to someone in distress.

And we learn what to do if we recognise the voice on the other end of the line, or they recognise us.

Tricky situations

All are tricky situations but with a bit of forethought and training they can be addressed professionally and with respect for the caller.

Mostly, we learn that helping other pharmacists is a wonderful opportunity- at times difficult but never done without support. There is a team of existing PSS volunteers who also put their weekends on hold in order to role play over the phone with us and they are available for support- as are the service’s support staff (few though they are in number). There is a support session available after calls and group meetings where volunteers can debrief and share resources.

Every one of the volunteers gave up their weekend to do this training. They paid their own travel and accommodation, even if they came from interstate, which a few did. And they did it for nothing tangible. PSS volunteers are not named, not paid and are largely unheralded for their work. And that’s just how it must be.

I remember thinking on the way home that if any one of the people with whom I’d just spent the weekend said “I need to pick my mum up from the airport but my car’s not going” I’d happily toss them the keys to my car and just ask them to bring it back when they’re done with it. They’re just that kind of people.

If you are struggling and need to talk to someone the Pharmacists’ Support Service is available on 1300 244 910 from 8am to 11pm AEDST 365 days of the year.

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