Student counsellor Robert and his guide dog Angel offer bereavement support to families
A student counsellor who volunteers with St Catherine’s Hospice to gain real-life experience has told how the ‘unexpected’ placement has given him the opportunity to enhance his skills and progress his dream career in psychotherapy.
Robert Greggor was initially reluctant to go down the route of bereavement support, following the death of his dad to cancer when Robert was just eight-years-old, and other difficulties in his childhood.
So he was surprised to discover that the process has helped him come to terms with some of his own feelings, and people have felt confident opening up to him in the presence of his beloved guide dog, Angel.
“I was registered blind at a young age,” Robert explains. “And after losing my dad and going through the challenges of being blind as a child, I grew up being really interested in trying to understand my own grief and thoughts.
“I attended a specialist college for the blind and studied psychology, and then started accessing counselling myself through the college. It suddenly felt like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle fell into place, and I realised that it was psychotherapy and working with people which I wanted to explore.”
Robert, 28, was visiting St Catherine’s Hospice twice a week prior to the pandemic, providing face-to-face bereavement counselling to patients’ loved ones as part of his studies at the University of Central Lancashire.
Since moving back home to the Isle of Man when his course moved online during lockdown, he’s continued to volunteer his time with St Catherine’s, providing counselling over the phone.
He said: “I hadn’t actually considered bereavement counselling as an option for me, because I felt like it was too close to home. My dad was cared for by a hospice so I was aware of the good work hospices do, but I wasn’t sure it would be the right place for me.
“But we did a training session at university about pre-bereavement and I found it really comfortable to talk about. It came as a huge shock that being so self-aware about my own grief wasn’t hindering me in that sector, but was actually helping me to gain a better insight into what people were going through.
“I approached St Catherine’s about a volunteer placement and they worked with UCLan to make it happen. It’s been amazing; St Catherine’s has been so supportive of my professional development and accommodating of my disability, making arrangements for Angel to accompany me.
“Clients loved having her there too. She’s six-years-old and she can be very playful and active at times, but when we’re in the therapy room she’s so relaxed and brings a sense of calm and security to the sessions. We refer to it as emotional grounding, helping people feel at ease and to trust the process. She’s very in tune with people’s feelings and emotions, and knows when to just sit by their side or let them stroke or cuddle her.”
Robert added: “It can be quite emotionally draining at times, especially doing the hands-on work alongside studying, but it’s also been the journey of a lifetime and I know I’ll take an incredible amount from what I’ve learnt at St Catherine’s throughout my career.
“It has definitely been a perfect fit for me and the right decision for my future. I’ve always been a people-person and this feels like it really suits my skills and interests. It’s been a really rewarding experience.”
The St Catherine’s Support Team provides one-to-one bereavement support to patients’ loved ones before and after death, and relies on a dedicated team of compassionate and committed volunteers; some qualified counsellors and others who are training like Robert, using a carefully managed triage system to ensure the trainees are matched up with clients suitable to their skill level and ability.
Robert said: “I’m grateful to those who gave me the chance to be their counsellor to progress my skills, and I would encourage anyone who could benefit from this kind of support to be open to the idea of working with a student counsellor. There’s a lot to be said for experience, but students have great qualities to bring to the table too. We’re at the forefront of research and are freshly trained. We’re learning as we go but we also have bounds of enthusiasm and are striving to constantly improve. I’m personally very passionate about helping people in this way and I’m grateful to have had this worthwhile opportunity.”
Robert is coming to the end of his post-graduate course with UCLan and is considering studying for a master’s degree or professional doctorate. “You can never learn enough about people”, he says.
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