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“I sometimes worry that it would come across as too ‘Oh, I got you! Neutral language allows the texter to feel anonymous. But this is precisely what one is not supposed to do when communicating with a teen-ager in crisis.
These people have contacted a stranger for a reason. Often, the conversations are about minor-seeming problems—fights with friends, academic pressure from parents—and the bar for helpfulness is quite low. Nobody ever does that,’ and at other times it’s less explicit; they just want to get everything out, and they provide you with a very, very detailed account.”The etiquette encouraged for counsellors can be surprising. Instead, counsellors are trained to deploy language that at first seems inflammatory: “You must be devastated” is a common refrain; so is “That sounds like torture.” The idea is to validate texters’ feelings and respond in a way that doesn’t belittle them.
If you are a distressed teen or a counsellor, you know that what you say will be read.
A person can contact Crisis Text Line without even looking at her phone.
“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.
During active rescues, the counsellor asks questions as casually as possible—Are you alone?(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.(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.