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Setting boundaries vital for dedicated volunteer

Chris understands only too well the importance of self-care.

A St John paramedic who also volunteers with Victim Support and Coastguard, Chris is a busy man devoting many hours each week to helping others. To deal with the demands of all his roles, he’s had to learn how to set limits and put things aside.

“You’ve got to bank time for yourself. I’ve had to learn that the hard way. You’ve got to put limits in place and not overcommit, otherwise it’s not good.”

Chris smiling

His work with Victim Support has seen Chris walk alongside a wide variety of clients, from a range of cultures and backgrounds, dealing with all manner of circumstances. “Suicide bereavement, that’s intense but it’s also gratifying because you’re helping them to remember their loved ones – not for the actual act but for all the good things about them,” says Chris.

“That single act does not define their loved one. What defines their loved one is all the good memories they’ve bought. That’s what I get them to focus on.”

In 2019, Chris was heavily involved in the aftermath of the Whakaari/White Island eruption, spending four moths in ICU and the National Burns Unit. “I got to know the victims and their families really well. It didn’t bother me from a clinical perspective, although I was surprised at the intensity of the injuries. It was more the strength of the emotions involved,” he says.

“Many of them were foreigners and I spent a lot of time explaining how our systems like ACC worked. I’m still in contact with most of them now.”

While he has no children of his own, Chris is in the fortunate position of having 13 godchildren, and says these valuable relationships help inform his work, particularly with the younger victims of crime.

“Some of the victims are my godchildren’s age, so I know how they think and what they prioritise as important. I actually get it. I try to get them to understand that expressing your emotions is ok, it’s how you do it that matters and writing things on social media while you’re in an emotional state might not be the best idea.”

In addition to setting good limits around his commitments, having others to debrief and discuss things with also keeps him in a good head space, Chris says. This includes his Service Coordinator at Victim Support, Alannah, and other Support Workers who started as volunteers. “I don’t always find the work easy, but I try to remind myself that all I’m doing is listening and helping people figure out things for themselves with useful and practical information.”

“Saying ‘I don’t know’ is okay. You have to be honest. You can’t bullshit your way through. By providing wrong information, it will result in you losing a victim's trust, and negatively affect their recovery. Honesty is the best policy.”