This week I passed a major milestone as a Crisis Text Line crisis counselor– 1000 conversations! Currently Crisis Text Line groups crisis counselors into five levels from Level 1 for counselors who’ve had less than 20 conversations, to Level 5 for counselors with 1000+ conversations. That 1000th convo represented a long-sought goal to get to that top group and see my name in gold lettering on the online counseling platform! (Of note in a couple of weeks they are expanding to include 11 Levels, with the top level being 10,000 convos, so I won’t be in the top tier for long. 😂)
And wow, first of all it’s gone by fast! I volunteered at Utah County Crisis Line (a phoneline) for about a year and a half, and I estimate I took less than 100 calls in total. The unique structure of CTL allows multiple conversations at a time, and no lulls in-between conversations, so I’ve gotten to see the full spectrum of crises in a short time.
As I look back I recognize I’ve had some pretty tough conversations. There have been times when I felt I had nothing to offer the person in crisis. They share that they feel they’ve done everything they can do to make things better, but nothing every changes. Now imagine if they feel they can’t do anything to make things better, what I am to do when I’m not with them and don’t know them personally?
These conversations have best developed my overall counseling strategy, which is validate, validate, validate. There are few phrases more empowering than the simple phrase “it makes sense that you’re feeling how you do.” I know I’ve been in emotional situations where I’ve thought “Am I crazy for reacting this way?” and I have needed to hear “it makes sense”. My toughest texters always get a good dose of validation. “It makes sense you’re afraid, or in pain, or feeling betrayed.” The biggest take away from all of my crisis counseling has been that a person in a crisis can’t get to a better place until they know what they’re feeling is valid.
Along the way to 1,000 conversations, there have been plenty of texters who found me unhelpful and I totally understand! I’ve totally used mental health resources that weren’t the right thing for me at that time, so I get it. However, as I wrap up conversations, probably 4 out of 5 texters express some kind of gratitude, the whole range of grateful statements, from “this helped a bit” to “you saved my life”. On the shift during which I reached 1,000 convos, I got a piece of texter feedback that sums it all up.
“I see a glimmer of hope for tomorrow”
Crisis counseling is not meant to cure mental illness. It’s meant to offer enough validation and coping strategies to get through the day and into a better mental state for thinking of long-term solutions. I am so grateful I’ve been able to offer that glimmer of hope to the texter who shared that, and likely many more.
And what does this all have to do with my journey to genetic counseling? As I mentioned, 1,000 conversations full of problems I can’t cure or solve has developed my personal counseling philosophy. In recent years crisis counseling or similar experience has become somewhat of a requirement for GC applicants. As I’ve shadowed, I’ve noticed that it’s easier for those GCs who do have crisis counseling training to settle into a psychological support role in a tough session. All of the counselors I’ve shadowed are fabulous and have unique strengths based on their background and interests. I hope that mine can be extensive practice in support and validation.
A person’s genetics is so out of their control. Genetics patients can feel extremely powerless when a genetic mutation plays a big role in their or their child’s life. Sometimes genetic testing has been exhausted, leaving the patient feeling uncertain and afraid. Sometimes genetic tests reveal life-altering results. I so wish we could wave a wand and fix the issue, just like I wish I could take away my texters’ pain. But just like I offer my texters a glimmer of hope, I hope to one day do that for my patients as well. Them knowing that someone cares and recognizes their pain is huge. I am so grateful that I’ve had to take this year before grad school to practice that supportive role even more.
I guess crisis counseling keeps me hopeful and excited for the future too. 😊
Next week I’ll be sharing an extra special post for Genetic Counselor Awareness Day (November 8th). If you want to be the first to know about it, follow my blog! To follow, scroll up, and you should see a Follow button appear in the lower right corner of your screen. Click that! ❤
In a crisis? Text HELLO to 741741 in the US, or to 686868 in Canada. You matter.
To volunteer with Crisis Text Line visit crisistextline.org/volunteer