FAQ about Survivor Support Volunteering

Q: How many people participate in the Survivor Support Program?
A: Through a number of support channels, more than 600 individuals are helped annually.
Q: What is the training like for the Survivor Support Program?
A: We offer an engaging 30-plus hour training format that follows an attitude, knowledge and skills model. Some of the topics covered include:
  • Understanding grief and unique aspects of grieving a sudden, violent death
  • Challenging emotional reactions - anger and guilt
  • How to support survivors in face-to-face encounters; practicing skills in interactive situations
  • Suicide risk assessment
The training is very interactive. There are opportunities to practice skills and use knowledge gained in small- and large-group role plays.
Training happens twice a year, in the spring and the fall.
Q: What do you discuss in the support sessions?
A: Sessions follow weekly topics (guidelines are provided to volunteers) to create momentum, but the specific needs and concerns of a particular survivor will help set the direction of his/her support. You will have a chance to explore, with the survivor, how the loss has impacted them, and how the loss has affected their family and other members of their support network. You will also have an opportunity to discuss with the survivor their strengths and the challenges they face. It will also be important to explore how they are managing their reactions to the loss.
Q: Where are sessions held?
A: Normally, sessions will be in one of the three offices of Distress Centres: downtown, North York and Scarborough.
Q: How are sessions scheduled?
A: Meetings usually take place during the day and evening, Monday through Friday. Consistent support is appreciated by program participants and an important part of what we offer. Sessions are scheduled after a consultation between members of the volunteer team and the program participant.
Q: How much time is involved in volunteering in the Survivor Support Program?
A: Each week that you are actively volunteering involves between 3 and 4 hours of your time. This includes the sessions, scheduling, reporting and other activities.
Q: What are some of the volunteer and professional experiences that might be a good fit for the work you do?
ATelephone crisis line volunteer; hospice or palliative care; nursing; counselling
Q: I am a volunteer on a distress line. Will I be accepted into training for the Survivor Support Program?
A: It depends. The makeup of our volunteer corps depends on a number of factors, including, but not limited to, the number of survivors available for training. Additional considerations would include the length of service on the distress line (at least one year) and feedback from references. We do not permit volunteers to train for both the distress line and the Survivor Support Program at the same time.
Q: I am a survivor. How much time should I wait before applying to volunteer?
A: An important consideration for you is timing. Generally, a minimum of two years after a significant loss is preferred. It is sometimes the case that those two years might not be long enough. You must be emotionally available to engage with program participants about complex feelings and be available to share, if asked, elements of your own loss without actively grieving at the same time.
Q: What happens after graduating from Survivor Support Program training?
A: We hope that you will be ready to start as soon as possible after training. We also encourage volunteers to participate in ongoing education after training. New volunteers will work initially with more seasoned volunteers, who will mentor them in their new role.
Q: How are volunteers supervised in the Survivor Support Program?
A: Volunteers report to the Program Manager. We encourage volunteers to debrief with us as often as required. We require volunteers to provide updates about session content on a weekly basis.
Q: Do you provide a letter of reference?
A: After one year and you have fulfilled the required commitment.
As part of our commitment to volunteers, reference letters and confirmations of volunteerism are provided upon request to those who have fulfilled the specified requirements.  When providing reference letters, Distress Centres is only able to attest to a volunteer's skills, experience and personal qualities.  For clarity, reference letters and confirmations of volunteerism will note that Distress Centres volunteers engage in supportive counselling, but do not engage in psychotherapy, in the course of their volunteer work.