Volunteering is (extremely) broadly defined in academia. There are articles discussing volunteering as service, volunteering as serious leisure, volunteering as activism, volunteering at work, volunteering as a pathway into work, volunteering in as many domains as you can think of… But nothing (caveat: there’s more volunteering literature out there than you can possibly imagine and I have hardly read any of it – ‘nothing’ may therefore be an exaggeration) on volunteering as therapy.
To be entirely fair, it hadn’t occurred to me either, until a long pub conversation with Rachel, Christine, Terri and Georgina (none of whom research volunteering, but all of whom are extremely smart). Rach has just sent me links to the organisations we were talking about. Jamie’s Computers is a division of The Society of St James, a Southampton based charity. It offers support to over 3000 people each year. Its services include housing for people with (for example) mental health and addiction issues, substance misuse services and a care home for the elderly homeless. Jamie’s was established in 2002 to provide meaningful occupation to The Society’s residents and service users. For an addict, volunteering at Jamie’s isn’t service, leisure or activism – it’s therapy or treatment. Emmaus is not dissimilar. You could think about this as a pathway into work – and volunteering is often written about as a means of learning or extending skills. But I think it’s more than that.