So, you want to become a crisis line, or suicide hotline volunteer. Congratulations! Not a lot of people feel like they’re able to do this work. It’s very difficult to spend hours alone in the middle of the night listening to someone talk about their depression, or about feeling suicidal, relationship issues, or all the other things that brought them to call in.
This article reviews some of the qualities required to be a good crisis line volunteer and also some of the steps that someone joining a crisis line might need to go through before they begin.
Becoming a crisis line volunteer isn’t an easy process. Most crisis lines require a minimum of 40 hours of training, passing a reference check, being able to display empathy and handle crisis situations, and learning how to perform suicide risk assessments and interventions.
Additionally, after you’ve passed the training you usually have to complete a period of on-the-phone apprenticeship which can add another 8-20 hours to the time that it takes to be fully trained. This is because the standard in which crisis line volunteers are expected to perform is very high.
There are some elements you should consider before deciding to become a hotline volunteer:
- Can you work well under pressure?
- Can you be empathetic to other people?
- Can you resist the urge to fix people’s problems?
- Are you a team player?
- Do you have good mental health yourself?
Some of these are obvious: crisis lines can be stressful when you’ve got people in intense situations who need a calm person to listen to. If you can’t empathize with people who are in distress – and communicate that – people won’t feel like you truly understand. And having good mental health is important to ensuring you aren’t negatively affected by your work.
On the other hand, some of these items are less obvious. Often people feel like crisis lines help people by giving them advice. This is in fact not the case; providing advice to people to solve their problems promotes dependance.
Let’s say you tell someone to break up with their boyfriend because he’s treating her badly. She breaks up with him but then decides she really wants to be with him. He refuses to take her back. You’ll be blamed! This can also cause legal issues; people in professional fields have been sued for giving bad advice, and crisis lines are not immune to the impacts of their decisions.
Of course, being a team player is important. Crisis lines are often comprised of large groups of volunteers, or a mix of paid and volunteer staff. Learning to get along with a variety of diverse people is an important skill. Don’t underestimate the benefits that enjoying your coworkers and being able to make friends with them.
To review, in order to become a crisis line volunteer you’ll probably have to go through several or more of the following steps:
- Information Night
- Submit Application
- Reference Check
- Complete Training
- Complete apprenticeship on the phone lines
Additionally, you will likely to complete additional in-service trainings and be supervised. If it’s something you’re interested in however, you can gain a lot of great benefits including boosting your resume, learning new skills, networking and meeting people and getting into graduate school.