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Psychologist-consultant in the service of emergency psychological assistance - “Helpline”

Telephone counseling originated in Russia relatively recently. The first telephone counseling service in the USSR appeared in Moscow in 1982. By 1991, there were already about 25 such organizations in our country, and therefore the establishment in the same year of the Russian Association of Emergency Psychological Assistance Phones (RATEP) was a logical step in the development of this type of counseling in our country. Now RATEP unites more than 200 members, and every year specialists working on hotlines answer 1,500 calls.

The main function of an employee of the helpline service is to provide psychological assistance to those people who have addressed their service with their problems. Since contacting such a service voluntarily, anonymously and, in most cases, is one-time in nature, the results of the work of TEP employees can only be conditionally spoken, because usually the psychologist does not know how his conversation with the client will affect the future life of the subscriber.

The main principles of the telephone consultant’s work are constant availability (people who need help should be able to receive it at any time of the day), anonymity of the call (the caller has the right not to give his name), respect for the caller (the subscriber is he is; any form of pressure on the client by the consultant is absolutely unacceptable) and the protection of the caller (the consultants are people who have been selected and trained, who must constantly improve their skills pecifications).

Telephone counseling is a type of psychological counseling, and therefore it is the practicing psychotherapist who is the closest professional “relative” of a psychologist working on a helpline. Helplines are both public and private, but most often they are organized at various medical centers (for example, drug treatment centers) and psychological rehabilitation centers (for example, for victims of violence). In addition, there are special hotlines for teens.

Most often, women, especially single people, turn to the telephone counseling service. In addition, many teenagers call and elderly lonely people. Calls from men arrive much less frequently. Sometimes small children also call. The range of problems that subscribers turn to is very wide: these are problems in their personal lives, family problems, attempts at suicide, problems with drugs, alcohol, unemployment, self-acceptance (especially during adolescence). Often people just want to talk or ask for advice. In addition, people with mental illness often call.

It is clear that the main and practically the only labor activity of a psychologist in such a service is a conversation with a subscriber, and the only instrument of labor is a telephone set. The duration of the conversation with the subscriber is not limited (from a couple of minutes to several hours) and depends solely on the client who can stop the conversation as he wants. It is obvious that a psychologist does not have such an opportunity, despite the fact that some calls are very unpleasant (sometimes, for example, the helpline is perceived as an analogue of telephone sex service).

Often, a conversation for a psychologist begins with the fact that you just need to reassure a client who is not able to formulate the problem about which he is calling. Sometimes the whole conversation is dedicated to this goal. At the same time, in some cases, a call on the helpline is a last attempt for a person to find help, and at such times a psychologist requires skillful and decisive actions that can often prevent tragedy: the psychologist needs to find the only correct words, reassure the client, make him think about what he is going to do, finally, just dissuade him from committing suicide. In principle, consultants try not to give any advice regarding the life of the subscriber. On the other hand, the consultant may suggest that the subscriber contact the services that specialize in a narrower range of problems and can more fully understand the problems of the caller. The psychologist can give his name, and sometimes, if the subscriber re-applies to the same service, he asks to connect it with the same person with whom he spoke last time. Usually, each employee of the helpline has several “regular customers” whom they “lead” for a long time.

It is important to understand that personal meetings with clients are not part of the professional duties of telephone consultants, although this is not prohibited for them. If a psychologist decides to hold such a meeting (which, however, happens very infrequently), then she will simply be a part of his personal life in his free time.


Among the personal qualities necessary for a person to work in a telephone counseling service, first of all, it is necessary to call the ability to listen to the subscriber, politeness, tolerance, and interpersonal skills, although there is no strict selection to such a service for any particular character trait.

At the same time, professional qualifications are a prerequisite for working on a helpline: there are usually only people with psychological and medical education, and recently there is an opinion that only clinical psychologists should work in telephone counseling. At the same time, in the West, for example, sometimes the helpline services recruit volunteers without special prior training.

Typically, helpline workers work on a brigade system. The brigade consists of 5-6 people, and its composition does not change for a long time. The team should be not only a psychologist, but also a psychiatrist, and a specialist in child psychology. Thanks to this, it is possible to “transfer” the call from one specialist to another, depending on the specifics of the client’s problems (although people with pronounced mental disorders do not speak for a long time). In addition, employees of the same team, if necessary, provide each other with psychological assistance.

The mode of operation in such services is approximately the following: the team works 12 hours, then it rests for 24 hours, then it works another 12 hours, after which it rests for three days.

Usually, each consultant works in a separate booth, where, besides the telephone and the chair itself, there is a mirror located opposite the chair (so that the consultant can track his behavior and emotional reactions during a conversation) and the bed (so as to spend all 12 hours sitting even in a comfortable chair is very difficult). In addition, the workers of the service have a recreation room and a kitchen, which serves as a place for gathering and socializing.

Most of the employees of the hotline are women, and among them a fairly large percentage are elderly people with rich life experience. Men significantly less. An important advantage of this profession is that it can work for people with physical disabilities (for example, blind). Of course, a prerequisite for working in a telephone consultation is the absence of speech defects (for example, stuttering).

When working in the telephone counseling system, such personality traits as sociability, ability to endure uncertainty develop. At the same time, there are certain stresses in the work of the helpline service. Those cases where the psychologist knows about what happened to the client after talking with him are rare, and therefore the psychologist usually does not even suspect the results of his work. Another stressful factor is that sometimes psychologists receive calls from sexually aggressive or mentally ill patients. One of the ways to overcome these stresses is that employees of one brigade often tell each other about the conversations held.

For employees of this profession, the main motivating factors are the desire to work with people, the opportunity to help them, while not getting too close to them due to the lack of direct visual contact, convenient work schedules for many, a great variety (very different people with different problems). For many, especially for older people, it is also an opportunity to compensate for the lack of communication in everyday life.

One of the main problems of those psychologists who specialize in this particular area is that they do not teach telephone counseling anywhere, except for certain paid courses. Therefore, employees of the hotline have to rely on their basic psychological education, on their knowledge of clinical psychology and general psychotherapy. At the same time, there is a certain amount of specialized literature on this subject.

Summing up the description of this interesting profession, it is necessary to note its great importance for modern society, in which interpersonal contacts are often severely limited, resulting in the fact that people have no time and no one to share their problems with. Helpline is a good way out of these situations. In addition, the work in the telephone consultation is very interesting and diverse.
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Psychologist-consultant in the service of emergency psychological assistance - “Helpline”

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