What it means to be a crisis counselor with Crisis Text Line

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My neighbor, a strong believer in the bible, once told me that when you try to help others, you are actually helping yourself. That’s incredibly true when you join Crisis Text Line as their crisis counselor. More than helping individuals in crisis, you learn good communication techniques which can do wonders for your daily life and it keeps you grounded and grateful for the life you have.

One night, while researching on a cure for Herpetophobia, I stumbled upon a thread on Reddit, where users share their phobia stories. On the top of the page, I noticed an ad for Crisis Text Line, which led me to their website. After going through their program in detail, I couldn’t wait to get accepted and started volunteering with CTL.

What is Crisis Text Line?  

Crisis Text Line or CTL, is a non-profit that provides 24-hour, 7 days a week free crisis intervention via texting. Any individual in the United States, who is getting abused at home or school, is homeless or feels suicidal can text 741741 to connect with a crisis counselor who can help them de-escalate from the anxious phase, assert their safety, and connect them to the right self-care routines, social communities, and government resources. People from all walks of life use their service. Abused teens, veterans, middle-aged adults, war heroes, LGBTQ individuals, victims of racism, immigrants affected with the job and visa changes, everyone uses CTL when they cannot seem to get their life together.

Here’s the founder of CTL, Nancy Lublin, sharing the non-profit’s mission and story on a TedTalk: 


Volunteering as a Crisis Counselor:

Crisis Text Line requests individuals willing to give 200 hours over a period of one year to contribute to their crisis counselor and take up a few shifts to help texters in crisis. To be a crisis counselor, you have to apply to be accepted into their program, which needs references, a background check, a detailed application and a self-assessment.

The 30+ hours of training by crisis text line is flexible, easy to understand, supported with tons of videos and a guided textbook, but here’s the fine print – Crisis counselor’s training program how you interact with your family, friends, and coworkers. Prior to this program, I believed I was a people person, I could connect with people instantly on an emotional level, I am a good listener, I always am ready with bits of advice, and I make a great support to anyone in crisis. After going through the training program, I realized that no matter how well my intentions were, in reality, I wasn’t helping anyone, but myself.

We, humans, are emotional parasites, we feed our ego with each other’s venerability and failures. Often times we humans use a loved one’s crisis to prove how well can we, ourselves, rise up in bad situations and support them. We neglect the fundamental role we need to perform – just be there for what *that* person needs, and not focus on what you can do for that person. Also, many times, an individual who is there to provide unconditional support is used as a doormat and ends up bringing the burden on his or her self.

With Crisis Text Line, we learn how to help a person in crisis, while shielding yourself from not getting sucked into someone else’s problems. CTL also emphasizes on counselors developing a self-care plan to help them cope up with difficult shifts.

What qualifies me to be a crisis counselor?

This is the question is repeatedly asked myself after the results of my first full-length stimulator test arrived. While I really wanted to help, I wasn’t sure if I was qualified. What if I couldn’t help? Or worse, I said the wrong things at the wrong time and pushed someone further deep into depression?

My agenda of joining CTL was to give back to the community. After being diagnosed with depression and anxiety disorder in 2014, it took me about 3 years to put my life back together, without the help of any medications. I didn’t do this alone. I had a lot of support from a few trusted friends, books, even strangers I met for few brief moments. Being in the same state in the past as most of the texters, I was confident that I could understand & connect with them on a deeper level. But what if that was my ego talking?

There was a 10 day period when I didn’t go to the training. I almost sent an email to quit the program. My husband recommended that I quit if I couldn’t handle it, but he asked me to take some time and go back to the intent of what made me start volunteering in the first place. During that time, CTL gave me all the space I needed. I am grateful for that time to reflect over my doubts, because now I know, I really want to do this.

Your strongest support during training & thereafter:

The coach! Crisis Text Line assigns each volunteer with a coach who works with his/her volunteer during training and during the volunteering period. CTL also have supervisors for each shift. Four to five supervisors are present, round the clock, to guide counselors during their shift (live) & to reach out to authorities when required. But the coach assigned remains the safe from start to end. He/she grades your tests, provides counseling, helps answers any question/concern you may have. I’ve interacted directly with my coach a few times, and knowing he is there is such a relief!

My First Shift as a Crisis Counselor:

I had the obvious first-shift anxiety. I read my notes over and over again like a kid waiting for to go into the exam room. And there it was, 2 pm on a Tuesday afternoon. My phone was switched off, got my freshly brewed cup of tea, I signed on to the volunteering platform.After introducing myself to the shift supervisor, I signed on for my first conversation ever. Two minutes into the conversation, the middle-aged texter asked me, how am I going to help her by talking while she is homeless? That was it. This is what I just couldn’t prepare myself for, knowing you cannot help, and not knowing what to say next. The came the dreaded silence and the texter ended the conversation. I knew I did not make her feel any better. The second conversation didn’t go any better.  The only thought I had was – I’m going to hurt someone without knowing it, or I’ll end up punishing myself in the guilt of not being able to help”

My third conversation was a teen. I am not sure if it was the age factor or if it helped that I changed my crisis counselor display name to a pseudonym, but that conversation changed my life. The texter was less anxious when she ended her conversation and thanked me for helping her. The next 2 conversations went just as easy. With each passing shift, I’ve only gotten more comfortable but 63 conversations later, I do stumble upon the occasional awkward pauses.

My first Testimonial:

One of the things I’ve been suggesting texters, especially those who are feeling isolated, is to pick up books. I truly pray that anyone who’s going through isolation and emotional pain caused especially by loved ones should pick up books, gardens or crafts. If there is anything I’ve learned during the years I was diagnosed with depression is that a social life feels so useless when you realize there is so much to explore and so much one can create.

Also read my related post: Nine Gardens Every Home Needs 

In early January, I received an email that one of the texters I spoke to and recommended reading to left a feedback for me. He or she felt much better after the conversation and has now turned to reading his/her favorite series to help him/her get mentally strong!

I don’t know who the texter is, their name or their city but I’ll really like to thank him/her for leaving this feedback for me. This testimonial not only encourages me to continue doing what I do but also validates reading as an anxiety remedy.

How to apply to be a crisis counselor at Crisis Text Line?

Crisis Text Line asks their volunteers for – 4 hours a week for little over a year, with tons of flexibility and a great community to offer. I recommend everyone to volunteer at CTL for at least once in their lifetime. Not only will you help hundreds of teens and adults going through a crisis, war trauma, and mental illness, but learn a valuable communication skill that helps you in all walks of life. Click here to apply to be a crisis counselor at Crisis Text Line.

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