Telephone Crisis Centers
One problem with traditional forms of psychotherapy is that usually they take a long time and involve an intensive interaction between therapist and patient. Unfortunately, we don't have enough professional therapists to always have one available when a crisis arises. During the past decade or so, many community mental health centers have established telephone crisis centers to help deal with this problem. The telephone crisis hot line is usually staffed by paraprofessionals. These are people who volunteer their time and are intensively trained in the techniques of phone usage in emotional and mental emergencies. Because they can remain anonymous, people with serious personal problems will phone and talk with these workers. Their problems range from suicidal urges, rape, and incest, to loneliness, anxiety, and indecision. The concept works because someone is willing to listen. If the caller wants professional help, he or she is referred to an appropriate agency; the call may even be switched to a professional who can be reached by phone. Research in this area provides some suggestions for crisis hot line volunteers. First, the volunteer should be a good listener and try to develop empathy with the caller. Second, the volunteer must know where help can be obtained, including agencies, physicians, psychologists, or special centers for specific problems. Next, the volunteer should try to get the caller to promise to take some specific steps to solve the problem. And finally, it's important to reassure the caller that the crisis will end and life will not always seem so hopeless. The popularity of telephone crisis centers has risen in recent years. However, evaluating their effectiveness is a difficult task. It has been shown that about 95 percent of the callers do not call again. And since callers are usually anonymous, it's usually impossible to do follow-up studies on them. Still, it seems likely that just having someone to talk to can make a critical difference to a person contemplating suicide. This type of service fills a gap that exists because there are insufficient professionals available at any given time.

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