What happens when mentoring turns into friendship?

When the first phase of our Back to Life project was evaluated by Órla Cronin Research, Órla  highlighted the importance of setting clear boundaries between mentoring and friendship. Even though we establish these at the start of the relationship, some boundaries start to take a back seat, losing focus in the relationship.

Back to LIfe matches volunteers aged 18-35 with someone of a similar age who is recovering from mental illness and needs support. The two meet up and spend time together. They might go for coffee, take part in sport, see a play. As the relationship develops it can start to become more like a friendship. The main difference is that in mentoring, the focus is on achieving defined goals within a clear timeframe.

We wanted to reinforce this to new volunteers on the next Back to Life project. So we asked Annemarie Freude-Lagevardi, who runs befriending schemes and delivers Mental Health First Aid training in the Royal Borough of Chelsea & Kensington, to organise a workshop for us.

It was a really interesting session, with Annemarie discussing different problems mentors might face, such as being asked to reveal personal information or to lend money. 

She presented the mentors with a number of situations and asked what they would do. For example, you and your mentee discover you have a passion for playing music and start jamming together. You are spending more and more time together - way over the five hours expected each month - and goal setting has been forgotten. You as a mentor start to regret what has happened - what do you do?

The workshop also discussed issues around confidentiality and what to do if your mentee confides in you (There are NO secrets says Annemarie!) The mentors talked about how to redefine boundaries if they had shifted - or how to end the mentoring relationship and continue as friends if that's both want.

It was a really useful workshop, re-emphasising what we already cover in our own mentoring training but in more detail. We'll certainly be revisiting this issue as it's such as important one for our volunteers as they enter into mentoring relationships.