Mentoring tips for getting started at Open DoorBazaar Mindmarket | Published: 29th April 2021
First things first, welcome to Open Door Charity and congratulations on becoming a mentor! You definitely won’t regret it. This role will allow you to offer your services in a really fulfilling and satisfying way, learning and taking things away from yourself too.
Starting as a mentor can be a bit nerve-wracking. I remember being a bit edgy on my first day in 2018. But I think these feelings are to be expected and perfectly understandable. They show you care and want to do the best you can for your members. The assuring support of the Open Door staff and fellow volunteers helped me settle in in no time, and I’m sure it’ll be the same for you.
A lot of new mentors are quite young and have little if any, experience working in mental health. When I started, I only really had my own experiences of mental health issues, backed up by a bit of university work. This is why the support of everyone at Open Door is invaluable. You realise that there are loads of other volunteers who are or have been, in the same position.
To help you, I’ve put together some little mentoring tips and tricks that Open Door mentors have found helpful for them.
- Find common ground with your member.
I remember when I first started mentoring I was so keen to stick to the structure of the Bazaar CBT course that at times I struggled to build a rapport with my member. Some members are fine with this; they just want to focus on the course and improve their mental health. But often, I noticed some becoming disengaged when I stuck to the course too rigidly.
This isn’t to say to spend your hour chatting aimlessly with your member (we maintain professional boundaries), but it’s definitely important to take a bit of time to find out about their hobbies and to try to build some common ground. You’ll get more from it yourself this way! There are often opportunities to integrate this sort of chat in the session. For instance, if one of the exercises prompts the member to think of some recent positive events, don’t be afraid to take five or ten minutes to talk in more detail about them. Also, I think it’s often best to tailor this in terms of how much talking you think your member will respond best to.
- Be patient and listen.
This sounds obvious, right? You’re a mentor so of course, you’re going to do these two things. Well, it doesn’t always happen so it’s an important tip to reinforce. I think often as humans we’re so keen to help people that we can forget to take time to listen fully before giving advice. I still catch myself doing this from time to time in sessions and have to remind myself to shush.
Empathy, a non-judgmental attitude, and active listening are all key to mentoring. Being patient and giving your member space to air their thoughts and feelings is just as vital. By active listening I mean simple stuff like eye contact, facial expressions, and maybe the occasional ‘ah yes’ or ‘I understand’. Asking your member if they understood a particular page of the course, or if there is anything they’d like to go over, helps build this feeling of connection and patience too. These small actions will just help build more trust and authenticity between you and your member.
- What does your member want from the programme?
It goes without saying that all members will be doing the programme to better their mental health. But I think it’s really valuable to dig a bit deeper into this. Is it practical day-to-day tips they want? Or are they after more detailed chats and advice? There’s an exercise in week one of the Bazaar course which asks the member for the three main areas they’d like to improve, so it’s worth keeping these in mind as you work with your mentor. Writing them down as a reminder in your mentor notebook is wise too. This will enable you to really tailor your support to each member and understand the methods they’ll respond best to.
- Be creative.
As I said earlier don’t be afraid to change things up, especially if you feel like your member will get more out of a slight change of style to what’s on the screen or in their booklet. You could try new ways of explaining things to members. For instance, using more visual aids like acting out or drawing things if they are struggling with the writing aspect. One of our mentors had success with simply changing the wording of questions. Her member then felt able to make gestures in response and write in her booklet. Being flexible like this with your communication is so important in mentoring. Essentially, it’s all about doing what you think will make your member as calm and at ease as they can be.
- Familiarise yourself with the booklets and protocols.
It helps to read through the Bazaar booklets before mentoring so you can begin to know almost off by heart what’s coming and what topics each of the eight weeks cover. It just looks that bit slicker and more professional to the member if you’re aware of the order and structure of the course. I have a ridiculously bad memory, so I still like to have a quick scan over the booklet before my member arrives. Hopefully, you won’t feel you need to do this after nearly three years at Open Door though! I also find it useful to mention to the member, at the end of each week, what is coming in next week’s session and particularly which aspects of this will be really suited to them.
As well as getting to know the booklet content, it’s really important to learn the Open Door suicide protocol too. This way, when it does come up, you’ll be able to react calmly and smoothly. Your member will then feel safe and reassured. A couple of mentors have said that suicide comes up more often than they anticipated so make sure you’re on top of this. This will help things run comfortably for both you and your member.
- Open yourself up.
Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable and let your guard down, when you think it will be valuable for the mentoring process. It’s easy to think you constantly have to be stoical and in control when mentoring; I was definitely guilty of this when I started. But I realised that my members responded really well to the moments I opened up and spoke about how the techniques on the course had helped me so much. It gives the member that tangible proof that there is value in the CBT processes we talk about. Obviously, you want to remain reasonably professional, so the key is to share little bits when you think it will benefit the mentoring and give your member valuable insight.
Similarly, you could spend a few minutes in the first session talking about what you feel you can offer as a mentor, what brought you to Open Door, and specifically how you can help your member. It may be useful to add that although in this role, you are not a professionally qualified counsellor and you are here to mainly guide and encourage.
- Slow things down. Breathe.
How about taking a few mindful deep breaths before your session? It’ll just really help foster that calm space to put your member at ease. If they sense you’re on edge (you may have things going on outside of ODC) it’ll most likely make them feel uncomfortable. So make a conscious effort to relax for your member and park any other worries you may have outside the door. As well as doing some breaths before your member arrives, you could also do it alongside them at the start of the hour to ease any nerves they may have.
- Make notes.
When you start mentoring, you’ll be given a notebook to write key things down about your sessions. If you see more than one member, it can be difficult to remember everything they tell you, so that’s where the notebooks are really handy. You could write a summary of the session and make a note of any events they mentioned they have coming up, so you can then chat about this at the start of next week.
It doesn’t have to be something directly related to mental health; it could be remembering to ask how their driving test went if they said that was booked. This kind of caring, casual chat will make your member feel really valued and it’ll strengthen your rapport. I also like to use the mentor notebook to keep a record of the depression and anxiety scores the member gives in the session.
Last but definitely not least is the importance of finding a way to separate your mentoring from your life outside of Open Door. As a mentor, you often hear some serious and worrying things so I can’t stress enough how vital it is to sort an efficient method for removing these things from your mind and unburdening yourself when you leave the charity at the end of your day. The mentor notebook, mentioned above, really helps with this. Some mentors like to journal when they get home, remembering to observe member confidentiality if writing about specifics from their sessions.
I hope you find some value in these tips. Finally, remember to enjoy your time at Open Door! Best of luck in your role, and I look forward to seeing you around ODC!