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(Up to fifty people, most of them in their late twenties, are available at any given time, depending upon demand, and they can work wherever there’s an Internet connection.) An introductory message from a counsellor includes a casual greeting and a question about why the texter is writing in.
If the texter’s first message is substantive (“My so-called boyfriend is drunk and won’t stop yelling at me”), the counsellor echoes the language in order to elicit additional details (“I’m so sorry to hear that. I’m freaking out”), the reply will be more open-ended, while gently pressing for greater specificity (“So what’s going on tonight? An average exchange takes place over a little more than an hour, longer if there is the risk of suicide.
The act of writing, even if the product consists of only a hundred and forty characters composed with one’s thumbs, forces a kind of real-time distillation of emotional chaos.
A substantial body of research confirms the efficacy of writing as a therapeutic intervention, and although tapping out a text message isn’t the same as keeping a diary, it can act as a behavioral buffer, providing distance between a person and intense, immediate, and often impulsive feelings.
Each day, on average, Crisis Text Line instigates at least one active rescue of a texter who’s thought to be in immediate danger of suicide.
During active rescues, the counsellor asks questions as casually as possible—Are you alone?
(Crisis Text Line counsellors are free to give a real or assumed first name to people who text in.) It is also regarded as a mistake to embrace teen-age patois too enthusiastically.
One volunteer told me that she tries not to use acronyms.
” It takes practice to tell someone who is suffering that he has a real problem, and that, though things may get better, it may not be anytime soon.
“A lot of times, when chatting with young people, it’s clear that they just need someone to listen to them,” one counsellor told me. When an agitated friend texts me bad news (a breakup, a layoff, a sudden rent increase), my instinct is to find a positive response to the predicament (“But you didn’t even like him! Thomas Joiner, a psychology professor at Florida State University and one of the country’s leading suicide experts, pointed out another way in which conversational norms can be counterproductive.
“From a clinical standpoint, one common misstep is tiptoeing around issues and treating them like taboos,” he said.
Communication by text message is halting and asynchronous, which can be frustrating when you’re waiting for a reply but liberating when you don’t want to respond.
The young people who contact Crisis Text Line might be doing so between classes, while waiting in line for the bus, or before soccer practice.