Promoting students' psychological well-being through volunteering: What works and why?




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Peer reviewed


Objectives: The study adopted a qualitative approach to explore the motives and experiences of university student volunteers who engage in volunteering to understand how they manage and sustain their volunteering, and how volunteering affects their well-being. Design: The study utilised semi-structured interviews consisting of a series of open questions, permitting flexibility and in-depth discussion. . Methods: Participants were a purposive sample of 45 university student volunteers aged 18 years or over and studying at British universities. Participants were volunteering or had undertaken regular voluntary work relating to chronic illness, psychological difficulties or disability within the twelve months prior to the interview. Using grounded theory a three phase model was developed which comprises five themes capturing key elements of the development and maintenance of student volunteering. Results: Phase one - 'Getting involved' outlines the 'Motives and catalysts' for students starting to volunteer. Phase two - 'Maintaining commitment' includes three themes ('Making connections' 'Developing resilience' and 'Keeping the balance'), which represent important components of sustained volunteering participation. Phase three - 'Reaping the rewards' focuses on the benefits of volunteering identified by participants around self-development and employability. We discuss our findings in relation to how successful volunteering enhances key components of psychological well-being and facilitates ‘flourishing’ among student volunteers. Conclusions: The findings provide valuable insight into the initiation and maintenance of student volunteering. Further, they have implications for educational institutes such as universities involved in initiatives which include the training, mentoring and support of student volunteers, as well as promoting their well-being.



Students, volunteering


Bell, K., Williamson, I., Wildbur, D. J., Tanner, J., and Matthews, H. (2016) Promoting students’ psychological well-being through volunteering: What works and why?Poster presented at the BPS Annual Conference, Nottingham, UK.


Research Institute

Institute for Psychological Science