Befriending is a popular form of volunteering in healthcare, and research suggests that it can be beneficial for people with mental illness. This study aimed to explore the experiences of a large sample of volunteer befrienders and patients who participated in the VOLUME trial, testing the efficacy of a structured befriending programme for individuals with psychosis. This is the first study to explore the specific challenges and benefits of befriending in both volunteers and patients in this population within the same programme.
A series of in-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted with 34 volunteer befrienders and 28 participating patients. All participants who had taken part in at least one befriending session were invited to be interviewed about their experiences with the aim of including a wide range of views, including those who were more or less engaged with the befriending programme. The data were analysed using Thematic Analysis.
Four broad themes were developed from the analysis of the befriender and patient interviews which, although were largely discrete, captured the overall experiences of participating in the befriending programme: 1) Bridging the gap, 2) A genuine relationship that developed over time, 3) A big commitment, and 4) A flexible approach.
These results further support that, befriending programmes for individuals with psychosis can be a worthwhile experience for both befrienders and patients. However, participation also requires perseverance and flexibility from both sides. Different factors, such as incorporating participant preferences for frequency of meetings, have to be considered in the development and management of a befriending programme in order to provide effective support to both befrienders and patients.