If you want to get involved through community service, you would probably want your service project to be a success. The question is, without experiences and resources, how?
The answer is simple: apply your knowledge.
In my post-graduate years, I took a lot of psychology classes. I vividly recall that there was one class in which I realised how therapist-client relationships can affect psychotherapeutic effectiveness. At that time, I started to contemplate that if both psychotherapy and community service are about helping the needy, enhancing service provider-recipient relationship should immensely increase effectiveness of service projects. But the crucial question is how can we establish and promote this relationship.
This new idea made me see that psychology theories are not merely words on papers. They are instead useful tactics in improving the quality of community service.
Reflection of feeling is one which we often use in clinical psychology in building mutual understanding. The essence is to give an accurate description that resonates a patient's thought, so as to implant a sense of being understood and cared about into their mind. This sounds like something out of Inception, but in practice, it is not as hard as you think.
Imagine this. The organisation you're volunteering at sends you to a hospital to help. A chronically ill old man comes to you and tells you that he expected his sons would take care of him. Unforunately, his sons did not. What should you say to comfort this poor old man? To “reflect” his mind, we must help him to pour out his feelings. You may try to respond with something like, "I can feel you are quite disappointed with them". Eventually mutual understanding will be established.
As human beings, it's easy for us to develop biases. In 2013, our group went to do some voluntary teaching in the Guangxi Province in China. There were about a hundred kids, all very excited about our visit. In the beginning, we only focused on the more cheerful and cute kids. It wasn't until the other children threw tantrums that we realised that we were neglecting them.
One theory to explain this is called the Halo effect (Edward Thorndike, 1920). We always think the more attractive people have better characteristics. As we believed the cheerful kids were ‘better’ kids, it was natural for us to focus on them. This resulted in the remaining kids not wanting to play with us anymore.
Now let’s try another scenario. After holding a talk on life and death at an elderly centre, you asked the audience to discuss among themselves. After a while, you discovered that an old woman has not said a word. You tried to encourage her, but she still sits in silence. At that moment, what would you think of her? Was she shy, uninterested or feeling down?
If those are your thoughts, you may hit the Fundamental Attribution Error (Jones & Harris, 1967). It says that it is our tendency to explain a person’s doings by his/her characteristics instead of the environment. And this was exactly what happened with the old lady too. She was not shy at all. She just didn't want to talk about private issues in groups.
There are other subjects that overlap with community service just waiting to be explored. By applying our existing knowledge to helping a service project succeed, we are giving our best gift to the communities in need.