For many people the holidays are not the bright happy time that the Hallmark commercials paint them to be. For many, “no place like home for the holidays” is true but not in positive light. And for many, going home isn’t an option and so the holidays serve as a reminder of that fact. Whatever the reason, there are many people for whom the holidays are a difficult time. Lucky for them, Crisis Textline (CTL) exists.
What is Crisis Textline?
We’ve probably all heard of crisis hotlines that you can call to help you when you’re feeling lonely, depressed, anxious, basically if you’re feeling in crisis. Well studies found that millennials and younger were far more likely to want to text when they’re in crisis instead of calling. Thus, CTL was born. When a person is feeling in crisis, they can text “START” TO 741-741 and have a conversation with a trained crisis counselor via text. This means that you can text while you’re at home with your family if that’s making you feel in crisis. In fact, for the major mobile carriers—Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, etc.—CTL won’t even show up on a phone bill so once you delete the messages, there’s no record of you ever texting in. This means that it’s not only more comfortable and secure for anyone feeling in crisis but especially for victims of abuse or trafficking, it’s a way to ask for help without your abuser finding out. For more info on CTL go to crisistextline.org.
What to expect when you text in?
Texting CTL is very similar to texting your friend for help with a couple notable differences. First, your counselor is going to start exploring the way you’re feeling with you and try to build a good relationship with you so they know how best to help you. Since they are a crisis hotline, they might ask if you are suicidal but it truly is only because they care about your safety and many times when people text in that are feeling suicidal it is because there is a part of them that wants to live and that part is reaching out. As the conversation goes on, your counselor will continue to talk about whatever you want to talk about in order to bring you from a place of feeling crisis to a cooler place where you feel like you can go forward and make changes. Usually this includes coming up with a plan for the next day, week, whatever the case may be, so that you are empowered to stop those feelings from happening again. Sometimes though, people in crisis really just need to talk to someone and that’s OK. Maybe you won’t make a game plan but you probably will feel better and that’s really what’s most important. Take note though, that CTL can only receive 140 characters so sending a couple of consecutive messages or keeping them succinct helps you and the counselor build a relationship and make progress faster.
What CTL is not…
CTL is not going to tell you what to do. That’s one way where they’re different than your best friend. Only you know the situation you’re in and only you know what will and will not work for you so while they can offer you resources and maybe some ideas, they will never tell you what to do. The goal is to empower you to help yourself which really is so much better because they you can prevent it in the future. CTL also is not a replacement for therapy. CTL exists to help people go from a hot place in crisis to a cool place where they can put their plan into effect and keep themselves safe. If you text in regularly as a replacement for therapy, you will ultimately be disappointed because you will have a different counselor each time, the counselors are trained crisis counselors but they cannot diagnose a problem and they don’t have the degree that a therapist would, and you will feel like you’re starting over every time you text in because each new counselor will probably try and do the same thing as the last. However, a crisis counselor can help you find resources like a regular therapist in your area so that you can come up with a long term plan. Don’t let any of this discourage you from texting though. Even though they can only help you come up with a plan, you might be surprised at how helpful it is to talk through your feelings with a stranger and come up with a plan with someone who is removed from your situation so they are totally unbiased. Trust me, if you are feeling in crisis and need someone to talk to, CTL is an incredible way to go.
What it’s like to be a Crisis Counselor…
I’ve been a crisis counselor on CTL for 6 weeks, or 6 four hour shifts. In that time, I have taken over 20 full conversations and have become a level 2 counselor. However, I realize I haven’t been doing this for long and I have not gotten conversations of every shape and size like some of the level 4 counselors. What I do know is that all of the crisis counselors on CTL truly, truly care about every single texter that reaches out to us. We get asked a lot if we’re robots or told that we’re only complimenting them because we have to, but I’m telling you, we really do care. So, my shift starts out with me going to a room alone (usually my dorm room), logging on, and putting my status as my shift time so my supervisor knows and I usually add something witty to entertain my fellow counselors as you can see who’s online at any given time. Then I type a hello message in the group chat box so I can started talking to the other counselors online. I typically chat with the other counselors until I’m in the right frame of mind and I pick up a conversation. As I’m chatting with people I am either 1) chatting with other counselors about life and where everyone is from 2) searching for resources for the texter that I think would be helpful (this may include asking other counselors with more experience giving references) 3) coloring in between texts. I do this for 4 hours once a week and I absolutely love it. Seeing people text in feeling hopeless and then saying goodbye feeling empowered to do something is the greatest. Of course, there are plenty of difficult conversations but honestly, those aren’t the ones I remember. I worry about those texters from time to time but ultimately I know I did everything I could and everything I was supposed to do to help them but a person really has to want to help themselves. Being a crisis counselor takes incredible patience, empathy, and a little bit of strength but even though you are physically alone, every time you log on there is a great community of people there to support you so you really are never alone as a counselor on CTL. CTL is growing all the time—which is awesome because it means we are able to help so many more people—and we need new counselors all the time so we have the room to grow and texters don’t have to wait to talk to someone. If you are interested in volunteering, I absolutely encourage you to go to crisistextline.org/volunteer and apply to be a counselor. You will go through a six week training online and a final evaluation and then you’ll be certified and will log on as a level one counselor. I would absolutely recommend volunteering for anyone who likes talking to people and has great empathy skills.
So this holiday season if you’re feeling down or if finals just hit you like a freight train and you need someone to talk to about, text 741-741. Every counselor on there is truly happy to talk to you. You are not a burden, you are not being stupid, you’re feelings are absolutely valid and we know that and we want to help you. Happy Holidays everyone and remember to text in when you need to.