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Video: The Importance of Listening; and the Helpline Volunteers


Monday, February 28th, 2011

I became involved with the National Association for Children of Alcoholics or Nacoa while at university in Bristol. Although my first objective was to gain some volunteering experience doing something I had never done before, it was my personal experience of alcoholism within my own family that persuaded me to dedicate my free time to Nacoa.

In order to work on the helpline, a six-week training course is mandatory. Volunteers look at everything related to alcoholism; from the neurochemistry of alcohol to the problems that children of alcohol-dependent parents may face. Volunteers spend time exploring how different sources of support can help those who are affected by someone else’s drinking. Most importantly, volunteers are trained to become competent in basic listening skills and are equipped with an understanding of how to work with vulnerable people in a helpline setting.

The Nacoa helpline, phone and email, receives calls from children of all ages who are affected by a parent’s drinking, as well as calls from concerned relatives and friends. We also deal with requests from professionals working with children who would like further information about how they can best support a child affected by parental alcoholism. The content of calls varies and experiences do not necessarily have to be recent. Some callers discuss past experiences of living with someone who had a drinking problem which they may only be coming to terms with now.

Nacoa also supports children whose parents may not admit that they have a problem with alcohol.

After becoming a helpline volunteer, I was offered the position of helpline assistant, a part-time paid role in the office of Nacoa. It is through this role that I have come to see that without a doubt, Nacoa would not be able to operate to the extent that it does without it’s diverse and dedicated team of volunteers, who are based all around the UK.. Non-helpline volunteers take part in other activities such as; speaking, fundraising, raising awareness through leaflet hand-outs and tasks for the media.

“Thanks to NACOA for what has been an absolute milestone in my personal counselling process. Speaking to your helpline and receiving the information pack felt like I was ‘coming home’. A huge piece of jigsaw had fallen into place.”– Helpline Caller

Perhaps the most notable lesson I have learned during my time at Nacoa, both for use on the helpline as well as in my personal life, is the importance of listening. Just being there for someone, listening to their problems, their concerns and validating their experiences, is a powerful practise, and one that would undoubtedly benefit wider society if everyone took the time to listen just a little bit more in their daily lives.

With the time given by helpline volunteers, Nacoa is able to fulfil its primary aim; to offer information, advice and support to children of alcohol-dependent parents. Moreover, for many, just knowing that Nacoa exists, that there are other children out there who share similar experiences can make an enormous difference to someone trying to come to terms with a parent’s/relative’s drinking problem. I remember looking through the phone book when I was young not knowing where to turn to for help, or even what the problem was that I needed to get help for! If only I had known about Nacoa then, it could’ve made such a difference to the way I experienced my teenage years at home.

Although the impact of parental drinking on children is becoming more recognised, and Nacoa puts a lot of effort in to raising awareness, there is still a lack of comprehensive support services for those affected. This is something that I hope will become more of a priority throughout the UK in the coming years. Despite the grim financial climate, I believe that investing time, money and care in support services for children of addicted parents is both a necessary and benevolent investment for the future.

My time at Nacoa has been wonderful, due in part to the strong sense of optimism that guides the work but also to the friendships that I have cultivated with fellow volunteers and supporters. I hope that Nacoa’s work becomes better recognised so that other children can have the support needed, in order to stop the cycle of addiction that can so often torment and in the worst cases, destroy families.

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