FAQs about being a Samaritan

What’s involved in being a Samaritan?

Samaritans are ordinary people from all walks of life who provide a 24-hour listening service for people who are going through emotional difficulties and who may be feeling suicidal. Our callers may contact us by telephone, email, SMS text, letter, or visit us in person. You don’t need to have previous experience or qualifications, but you do need to be interested in other people and open-minded.

We have to LISTEN - attentively, unhurriedly and at length. You will be able not to advise, criticise or judge. You have to share the pain, often knowing there is nothing you can DO, since you can't provide jobs, accommodation, money, friends, or instant happiness.

Our listening volunteers are:

  • willing to understand others’ points of view
  • respectful of the way others are
  • honest with themselves and others
  • comfortable with themselves and able to cope with their own feelings
  • willing to learn.

Do I have enough time?

Samaritans agree to do an average of one duty per week. The daytime duties are 3 hours long, whilst night duties are 6 hours  once every  5 weeks (or two 3 hour duties in the same period). Some do more, but we are all expected to honour this undertaking - accidents and holidays apart!

Will my family get involved?

On the contrary, apart from helping you to be available, they will need to understand that they can't share this part of your life. Our overarching principle of CONFIDENTIALITY means that you won’t be able to discuss with them details of what you do as a volunteer. But you will need their support and encouragement to do it. You won't take calls at home - the only contact you will have with callers takes place at the centre where you will have the key support of other volunteers.

What qualifications do I need?

Only an ability to listen. Position and job do not matter. Your beliefs are your affair and must not be imposed on callers. Being the right sort of person is really all that matters. We need ordinary, friendly people aged 18 and over who are not afraid of distress, grief, or embarrassment.

Would I be suitable?

Our open Information Evenings, Selection, and Initial Training Course are all designed to help you, and us, assess this with consideration and care.

What’s the process I will have to go through to become a Samaritan?

We ask you first to attend one of our open information evenings held in our branch  which will be approximately for an hour. This is a chance for you to meet volunteers from the branch, ask any questions you might have and talk about the volunteer role(s) you are interested in.   If you wanted to have  an informal chat about what made  any concerns you might have, our volunteers would be available.

We will explain the history and work of the Samaritans and the principles of the organisation. We will then show you a short DVD and give you an information pack together with an application form to take away.  

What happens after I have sent in my application form?

We will take up your references and then ask you to attend a Selection Morning and have an interview.

What happens at the Selection Morning?

You will learn more about what it means to be a listening volunteer and you will take part in  activities to explore your views, see how you interact with others and how you respond to different issues. It helps us get to know you and is a chance for you to learn about us – and you might even learn more about yourself!

What will the interview be like?

As friendly and informal as possible. You'll have a chance to ask questions, and the two interviewers will want to discuss with you some of the things on your application form. You will be asked about your background and life experience, and your motivation for applying to Samaritans at this time. This is so that we can work out whether you would be happy as a Samaritan. You may be asked some personal and searching questions. Not everyone is suited to be a Samaritan and the interview is designed to assess this. We don't accept everyone who applies - but neither are we looking for super humans!

And then?

The selection team in the branch, including those of us who first spoke to you and those who were there during your selection session, will then decide if you can go on to train to be a listening volunteer (we’ll talk to you about our decision). You’ll also need to decide if volunteering with Samaritans is right for you.

We invest a lot of time and money in selecting and training listening volunteers, so we’re looking for people who want to stay with us for a while.

To make sure we provide the best support to people who need us, we have to make sure you’re right for the role. This means not all applications to become a listening volunteer are successful.

The whole process, from the  information evening to the final selection decision, might take a few months.

What's the training like?

If you're accepted at selection/interview, you will attend an initial training course which is spread over 6 weeks and involves 2 Saturdays (all day) with 6 evenings in between. This training helps to develop your skills in grasping how it feels to be in another person’s situation, and you will learn a lot about yourself. It isn't easy, but in this way you face challenges of being a Samaritan in a safe place before you're faced with the reality. The skills you learn as a Samaritan volunteer will stay with you for life.

Once I have done the training will I be thrown in at the deep end?

Absolutely not! Hopefully you will be comprehensively trained during your course but everyone is nervous when they start to do their first duties. However, you will be provided with an experienced mentor who will share your initial duties and will help you with the way you handle callers.  You will always also have a debrief at the end of your shift.

Why do you turn people down?

The interviewers and selection team may feel that you are too close to troubles of your own or that Samaritans work might touch on a sore spot and harm you. It may be that the constraints that we impose on the ways in which you may be able to help could be frustrating for you. Or it might be that your talents are more of a practical type or your nature more forceful and active than we seek in Samaritans listening volunteers.

I've had trouble myself - will you still accept me?

Your own experience of distress may have increased your capacity for empathy and compassion - but it may have also left you too vulnerable to take on the burden of other people’s troubles. It depends on when and how you went through your own troubled times and what it did to you. Asking to be a Samaritan can sometimes be a way of trying to escape the burden of your own troubles by dealing with someone else’s instead. We know that some applicants need help themselves but it can be so very hard to ask for this.

Is there a place for people who don't feel they want direct contact with callers?

Yes! Anything which takes away the administrative burden from volunteers would be of benefit to the branch. We need help with administration, publicity and fund raising. Support volunteers are full members of the branch and still need to commit to 3 hours a week working in the branch.

I still want to be a Samaritan, what do I do?

Think carefully about whether you really want to do the work, whether you can meet the time commitment, and whether you will get the support of your immediate family. Then contact us by phone or email, using the details below. We'll send you an invitation to our next available open evening. This will help you decide whether to become a Samaritans volunteer.

If you have any further queries or questions in the meantime, then do contact us and we'll arrange for a member of our Recruitment and Selection Team to get in touch with you.

If you would like to apply to become a Samaritans Volunteer, or would like more information, then please get in touch via the following:


The national website gives a lot of information about volunteering, and the work of Samaritans. There is also a section where you can apply to become a volunteer at your nearest branch.


Email our dedicated Recruitment address at recruit@samaritansofsalisbury.org.uk.


Call the recruitment number:  01722 330672 and leave a message with your contact details. Someone will call you back as soon as they can.