The Online Counselling and Suicide Intervention Specialist (OCSIS) course is an online, self-study 40-hour course designed to teach basic suicide intervention skills and focusing on online and chat environments, offered by the QPR Institute.
Given the changes in help-seeking behaviour, with more people, especially youth moving online (Horrigan & Rainie, 2006) it’s important that helplines also begin to expand services in this area so that they can better support their clients.
Few online services have been reviewed, but the RAINN online chat has experienced positive reviews. (Finn & Hughes, 2008)
I completed the OCSIS certificate in August 2014, and feel it is an excellent value for the money (the course is approximately $200). It is split into the following modules:
- Orientation and Introduction to Suicide Prevention
- Ethics Education for Online Helpers
- Basic Helping Skills
- QPR Gatekeeper Training for Suicide Prevention
- Foundations in Understanding Suicidal Behavior
- QPR Suicide Triage Training
- Suicide: The Forever Decision – A text-based Intervention
- Crisis Mitigation: Part 1
- Crisis Mitigation: Part 2
- Course Wrap-Up
Each part of the course includes PowerPoints, audio to listen to and a series of roleplays demonstrating best practices along with explanations for the incorrect answers.
The course is obviously designed for individuals who have had no other experience in helping (with the QPR Gatekeeper Training and the Basic Skills modules included along with the more online-focused skills).
As an experienced helper, I feel like this was a weakness of the course. Lots of the course time was spent reviewing information not relevant specifically to online helping, but general helping skills.
Like many helping skills courses, I felt the roleplays were the most useful element, and any crisis chat training program would do well to spend a minority of the time covering the logistics of online crisis chat and the remainder of the time practicing with roleplays.
Specific elements identified in the course that I have found hold true in the crisis/emotional support chats that I’ve participated in include:
- The length of chats can be much longer, easily an hour where a similar call can be 20 minutes
- Chats can be more asynchronous (depending on the platform) and so can stretch on for several days or weeks; this can lead to burnout if helpers are not careful
- Because of technology limitations, active rescue is more difficult or impossible. This can cause helpers to experience a sense of powerlessness if they experience a suicide attempt in progress.
The course is also a prerequisite for IMAlive, the online crisis chat run by the Kristin Brooks Hope Center, the organization that (formerly) ran the 1-800-SUICIDE line.
Horrigan J., & Rainie, L. (2006). The Internet’s major role in life’s major moments.
PEW Internet and American Life Project (2006)
Finn, J., & Hughes, P. (2008). Evaluation of the RAINN National Sexual Assault Online Hotline. Journal Of Technology In Human Services, 26(2/4), 203-222. doi:10.1080/15228830802094783
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