5 Lessons I’ve Learned as a Crisis Counselor

‘I’ve learned a lot about the power of the support we provide.’

Image courtesy of Unsplash

How a volunteer opportunity made me better to my friends and to myself

“I’m no good under pressure.”

“What if I say the wrong thing?”

“I’m afraid I just won’t be good at the real deal.“

These are the concerns I’ve heard from people training to become volunteer Crisis Counselors with Crisis Text Line, the first nationwide, free, 24/7 text message service for people in crisis. Working with hundreds of trainees over a year, I rarely heard one that surprised me: these were natural fears, and they were common.

In fact, I held many of the same worries back when I started. Would I truly be able to make a difference for someone? Would anything I could say really matter?

Yes, and yes: in doing this work and conversing with over 200 texters in crisis, I’ve learned a lot about the power of the support we provide.

  1. Most people just need someone to listen. It often surprises new Crisis Counselors that many of our texters just need an opportunity to talk through their feelings. They don’t want to be “fixed” or “solved,” and they don’t want advice. These texters want to be heard, and to know that even if what they’re feeling is painful, it is normal. 66% of Crisis Text Line texters tell the Crisis Counselor something that they’ve never shared with anyone else before. That freedom to share is powerful. This work has curbed my natural instinct toward advice-giving.

2. We already have the coping skills we need; it’s just a matter of finding them. We engage with our texters in collaborative problem-solving, one of our five stages of a conversation. In this stage, the Crisis Counselor and the texter work together to determine the texter’s next steps. Sometimes this means planning for the texter’s immediate safety; other times it’s identifying a skill to which the texter can turn to moving forward. Always, the texter is the one who ultimately knows what’s best for them. The Crisis Counselor is there as a guide.

Navigating this stage with texters has helped me in my own life: their strength reminds me of my own, and I realize that I have the tools I need to handle any challenge.

3. “Crisis” is often in the eye of the beholder. It’s been an incredible exercise in empathy to put myself in the mind of a younger person for whom a bad grade or an unrequited first love truly feels like the end of the world. Putting myself in the mind of each texter has helped me to do the same in my everyday life: you’ll never hear me say, “It could be worse” or “That’s not so bad.”

4. There’s power in knowing someone out there cares. Not every conversation ends with a clear “Thank you” from the texter — though the texter has been brought to a safe, calm place, they may not necessarily recognize right away that they “feel better.” This isn’t a failure; it’s the nature of crisis intervention work.

It’s important to remember every texter is a person who texted us and learned that we would answer. Next time they need us, they won’t hesitate to reach out for help. That they felt heard means we did our job.

Letting the people in your life know that you’re there for them has a big impact, even if it’s not felt right away.

5. Admitting you need help really is the hard part. The hardest text for any of our texters to send is the first one. Putting your feelings into words — actually typing them out — makes them real in a new and scary way. That’s why it’s so important that our first reply is warm and attentive, welcoming the texter to share only what they’re comfortable with. The texter deserves to know that there was strength in contacting us.

The same principles apply in my personal life: if a friend approaches me about something they’re dealing with, I remind myself that the interaction is harder for them than it is for me — that I need to be truly present and available to listen.

Every conversation we have is one more person who knows we’re available to support them. Being mindful of this has proven vital not only to my work with texters, but to my empathy for the people around me.

Need support? Text us 24/7 from the US: text HELLO to 741741.

Interested in Crisis Counseling? Learn more and apply at crisistextline.org/volunteer.

Originally published at medium.com

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