Volunteering often has unexpected benefits for the volunteer, an experience Dr. Scott Friedman knows firsthand.
“My pro bono work has helped me see how I can use my skills as a psychologist to positively impact people beyond my office,” says the longtime psychologist and faculty member in Walden’s School of Psychology. He also serves as the vice chairperson of the board of directors for VOICE Today, a Marietta, Ga., nonprofit with the mission to break the cycle of child sexual abuse through education, awareness, prevention, and healing.
As part of his work at VOICE Today, Dr. Friedman has designed and held workshops to train professionals and parents alike to identify and properly handle incidents of child abuse. “The education and prevention work that colleagues and I are doing impacts parents, mental health professionals, and pediatricians. It increases their awareness of the prevalence of child sexual abuse and they learn how to interact with children appropriately to prevent it or intervene,” he explains.
Through his work on the board, Dr. Friedman has helped revise Tough Talk to Tender Hearts, a workbook for parents of children ages 4–8. Understanding how to reach this age group is especially critical since the median age of children who are abused is 9.
At the workshops, Dr. Friedman and his colleagues not only share serious statistics like these, but, most important, how parents can have age-appropriate conversations with children to help prevent abuse. Ultimately, he says, “I like to think this will impact their relationship in many ways; their children will become comfortable talking about a number of topics if they have these types of conversations.”
In addition to the workshops he leads, Dr. Friedman is also working with other board members and a psychologist at Georgia State University to assess and publish academic findings about the success of the program. Through their research, he hopes to show how useful the workshop is to parents and how it positively impacts their behavior with their children.
Although Dr. Friedman has been a psychologist for more than 30 years, his volunteerism is a recent development and one that has positively influenced his work, both as a faculty member and as a psychologist.
“I’ve been a clinician for a long time,” he says. “I have worked with families and seen a tremendous amount of child sexual abuse, which is often done by someone the child knows and trusts. When I was recruited to the board, I felt I could use my skills as a psychologist to help the nonprofit effect social change. It’s a good match.”
Dr. Friedman urges everyone in the Walden community to consider how they might give back. Consider these tips to find a volunteer opportunity that is equally fulfilling for all involved:
Look at your own profession to see how you can make a difference. “There are a number of ways to put your talents and skills to use,” he says. “Do a little research to discover how you can contribute through your field or area of expertise.” Look at national or local organizations that address an issue you care about to find an opportunity to contribute.
Remember that no matter how modest your time commitment is, it is valued. “Some people feel if it’s not big, they wonder, ‘Am I making a difference?’ The answer is yes. It’s important to realize that any time you do something, no matter how small it may seem, it begins to make a difference.”
You may be surprised to find that you get out more than you put in. “I’ve had a lot of training and experience, but I’ve learned a lot since I’ve been on the board,” Dr. Friedman says. “Part of the message is that as professionals we always need to be open to continuing to learn, particularly from people who have experience.”
Visit the Walden Service Network to find volunteer opportunities in your area.