Wardipedia – 74. Samaritans

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Good for patients, good for staff, good for you.


Samaritans are truly amazing. Their emotional support to individuals is not only 24/7, not only by phone, email, letter, text or face-to-face, but also includes brilliant work in the local community, visiting schools, prisons and workplaces. And they run the awesome Listeners scheme in prisons: “The Listener Scheme is a peer support scheme whereby selected prisoners are trained and supported by Samaritans, using their same guidelines, to listen in complete confidence to their fellow prisoners who may be experiencing feelings of distress or despair, including those which may lead to suicide. The objectives of the scheme are to assist in reducing the number of self-inflicted deaths, reducing self-harm and helping to alleviate the feelings of those in distress.”

Samaritans is a volunteer-led organisation, with 20,665 volunteers across 201 branches in the UK and Republic of Ireland. Each volunteer undergoes a highly respected, tailored selection and training process which takes up to 12 months to complete. They attend additional training each year to ensure their service is of the highest quality.

Because Samaritans’ focus is on listening, empathising and helping people build their emotional resilience, and through 60 years of experience with millions of distressed people, they’re very, very good at this. And happily, they have a department devoted to training staff in other organisations to manage highly emotionally charged situations effectively, sensitively and professionally. Even with all the financial pressures that are seriously hindering inpatient services, investing in training by Samaritans should result in calmer, more therapeutic experiences for patients and more confident and resilient staff. That’s got to be worth it! (Also, their charges seem incredibly low and of course all the income gets put back into providing direct emotional support to people. Cool!)

Closer contact with Samaritans means ward staff know more about how patients are being supported by Samaritans as well as giving staff and patients a fuller picture of the extraordinary services that Samaritans provide. For example:

  • discussing with patients (and visitors and carers) the range of ways in which they can contact Samaritans;
  • having Samaritan’s leaflets and flyers displayed and easily available;
  • building contact with Samaritans into care plans;
  • including a Samaritans’ leaflet in people’s leaving packs (see also Idea #37 Arriving and leaving);
  • inviting a Samaritan to a ward community meeting;
  • seeing if it’s possible to arrange with your local Samaritans branch that patients can be asked if they’d like a Samaritan to ring them once or more during their first week back home from hospital.

Indeed, given the exceptionally emotionally demanding (and often deeply traumatic) nature of staff’s work, colleagues should be encouraged to use the service themselves. That’s one of the manifold brilliant things about Samaritans – they’re available for anyone to talk with, any time, about anything. (See also Ideas #67 Ward culture of empathy and #75 Reflective Practice Groups.)

Samaritans are of course very expert in listening to people who are suicidal and/or use self-harming as a coping mechanism, and this may be one of the areas which you explore through their training. But their training also includes:

  • Listening skills.
  • Building emotional resilience.
  • Handling people who are behaving in a difficult way.

Samaritans deliver sessions on their core values: empathy, human contact, listening, acceptance, unconditional regard, anonymity, confidentiality and 24/7 access.

A little note from Marion Janner (founder of Star Wards)

I rely heavily on Samaritans – and this is despite being in the highly unusual position of my (beloved NHS) psychiatrist/therapist being very available by phone every weekday and having an out-of-hours crisis therapist. Speaking to a Samaritan is in some ways very similar to speaking to my therapists, inasmuch as they are exquisite listeners, unswervingly non-judgemental, empathetic, compassionate, human, good-humoured…. But with my therapists, I inevitably take into account what they might be thinking and feeling (i.e. Idea #7 Mentalising!), how what I say affects how they and I manage my suicidal stuff, whether I might piss them off etc, etc. However honest I try to be in therapy, the reality is that I try to ‘manage’ the information or its presentation.It’s different speaking to a Samaritan. I’ve no idea who they are (and choose to ring the national number to avoid worrying about ending up speaking to somebody I might happen to know at our local branch.) I know that they are all very carefully recruited, trained and supported so I don’t need to hold back in case they find it difficult to cope with what I tell them.
In particular, I find it a huge relief to be able to talk (and not briefly!!) about my feelings about death which it never feels fair to inflict on my therapists in such detail.The organistion’s ‘quality consistency’ is astounding. They have 20,665 volunteers across 201 branches and yet I can be confident that whoever picks up the phone will convey even in the tone of their opening words: “Samaritans. How can I help you?” that they’re now fully with me, have only one agenda (to listen to me) and that through talking with them, I will be able to get other perspectives on whatever is currently destabilising me. And probably end up having a good laugh! It’s simply a perfect service.


Categories: Empathy, Wardipedia