What Skills do I Need to Volunteer at a Suicide Hotline?

A suicide or crisis hotline is a confidential phone number which people in need can call for advice, support, and help. Most nations have crisis hotlines for people feeling suicidal, victims of rape and incest, and victims of domestic violence. Many of these hotlines are staffed by trained volunteers who give up several hours every week to help others get through difficult periods in their lives. If you are interested in volunteering on a suicide hotline, you do need a few basic skills, but the most important skill you will need is empathy, and the ability and willingness to talk with others about their problems.
No skills are required for suicide hotline volunteers, although thorough knowledge of at least one language, and basic phone skills are highly recommended. Knowledge of additional languages, especially in areas with a large immigrant population, is extremely helpful. In addition, people who have studied some basic psychology are often welcomed on a suicide hotline, but this is not mandatory for volunteers, as the knowledge and skills needed will be imparted in training.
To volunteer on a suicide hotline, the first step is finding a local suicide hotline and going to an orientation session. Current volunteers and staff will talk about the work requirements and time commitments, and people who are interested in joining the suicide hotline can fill out applications. The application includes basic information about who you are and where you live, along with screening questions. People dealing with psychological issues are asked to wait to volunteer on a suicide hotline, and many crisis hotlines which receive national funding are required to put all volunteers through a background check as well. Be prepared to make an hourly commitment, as the hotline will invest 60 or more hours in your training.
Once you have been accepted to work on the suicide hotline, you will have to go through training, which varies in length depending on the group you are volunteering for. 60 hours is about average, usually spread out in blocks over several weeks. Your training will include the type of language to use when talking with callers, how to interact with callers, ethics, situations that you have to report, and role playing activities so that you can practice with your fellow trainees.
After the training, you will usually have several shifts under the supervision of another person, who can help you work through your calls. Once you are approved to be on your own, however, you will never truly be on your own; backup is always available, and many suicide hotlines offer support and counseling for their staff as well as clients, to make sure that everyone is psychologically healthy. In addition, you may attend continuing education trainings to keep your skills current and to interact with other volunteers to establish friendly long term relationships.

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