In the 1980’s, I decided to volunteer for a hotline called Survival Crisis Hotline.
In my first day of training, I learned how to deal with a variety of callers. This was important since you were expected to counsel any caller who called and make a possible referral to either agencies or hospitals. The referrals that a hotline counselor would make would mainly come from a main rolodex or other resources that a hotline would have, such as books.
While in the training, I was given multiple books to read. These books were about hints on becoming a good counselor and how to handle emergencies. These emergencies could include how to handle a poison emergency or a drug overdose. I paid for these books to be put on tape and put in to braille. It never occurred to me to ask for these books in advance so that I would have them when the training sessions started. However, in spite of this, I made it through the training program just fine.
After I completed the training, it was decided that I should be on a shift with someone else. This was because most of the referrals were on a rolodex which wasn’t accessible to me. I was put on a day shift with someone else and the shifts lasted for four hours. Someone from the hotline had to give me a ride to the trailer where the shifts took place. This was because the people who supervised the hotline didn’t want too many people to know where the trailer was located.
Once I was at the hotline and took a call, and the call was completed, I had to have someone write down in a log book what the call was about, the name of the person who called and where I referred the caller to if a referral was made. This information was used to get funding for the hotline. I also had a partial list of referrals in Braille, but for the most part, I had to put the caller on hold and ask the other person on the shift for a referral. I operated the lines of the phone with a light probe. The probe would buzz if no one was using that particular line.
I was curious to find out how computers have revolutionized various hotlines and their referral and training processes. Are all of the referrals kept in a database? Are they accessible to visually impaired volunteers? What about the training material?
I called three hotlines in the Boston area, including The Samaritans, who deal with suicide. When speaking with this main office of this hotline, I was told that they don’t give referrals. I was also told the same thing when I spoke to someone at the Rape Crisis Hotline. I heard pretty much the same story when I spoke to someone at the Poison Information Hotline as well. I could also tell by the tone of their voices that they didn’t really want to answer my questions. I am not surprised by this since information is generally confidential.
Volunteering for a hotline was very good experience for me. I participated in meetings as well as hotline get-togethers down on Cape Cod once or twice a year. As a matter of fact, the experience encouraged me to major in Human Services when I attended community college.
Have any of you volunteered or worked at a hotline? How was your experience?