How Becoming a Crisis Counselor Deepened My Empathy

This mantra has shaped my life: always be willing to drop everything in order to help a friend out. One day I realized that my selflessness began and ended with people I deeply cared about. This bothered me. Why only help people I care about? What about everyone else?

I applied for a position where I would spend hours supporting individuals I would never meet. I decided to become a Crisis Counselor.

Since becoming a Crisis Counselor, I honed skills that I never knew would be so important in my day-to-day life. With each conversation I have with a texter, I learn more about strengths and weaknesses in communicating during tense situations. Here are some of the most important lessons I’ve learned about supporting others:

Meet People Where They Are At

Meeting people where they are at simply means doing everything you can to make someone feel comfortable. It can be extremely difficult for someone to share personal information that makes them feel vulnerable. Therefore, in order to support someone in the best way possible, the first step becomes learning what they are okay with and what will make them feel closer to you.

When I have used this in my personal life, I often let the friend decide if talking in person or text is best for them. When they say they want to talk in person, I will bring an array of small chocolates and snacks to just make them feel a little better as we talk through the challenge.

The Power of Purposeful Word Choice

Through my experience, I have learned as we establish trust with someone, word choice becomes a crucial factor in continuing the conversation and building them up. One of the most common things for someone in a crisis to say is, “No one is listening to me.”

Instead of reacting to a statement like this, I might say something as simple as “I totally hear you.” This may seem like a small gesture, but it can make it easier to get to the root of an individual’s troubles.

Word choice matters when finishing up a conversation too. At the end of a tense conversation, I’ve changed my word choice from “It was great talking to you” to “I really enjoyed listening to you.” This consistent reminder that I’m there to listen has allowed me to really connect with whomever I am talking with.

Small Steps Break Down the Biggest Challenges

Crisis Text Line routinely exposes me to new challenges. There is always an emotional hit at the beginning of each conversation as the texter opens up. How can I help someone face something that I could never imagine experiencing? Over time, I have learned that just breaking down the crisis to tangible parts and addressing them one-on-one not only helps in systematically addressing the crisis but also brings a sense of peace to the situation.

In my personal life, I am able to apply this method to those close to me and even myself. When I feel socially isolated or wildly anxious, I’ll sit down, break down what is taking up the most space in my mind, and write it down. Then, I will slowly write down steps I can focus on for the next few hours to make these feelings go away whether it’s calling an old friend or do the work that is stressing me out.

Mental Illness Does Not Discriminate

Prior to being a Crisis Counselor, I believed that some individuals are inherently more or less fortunate than others. It makes sense to think that those with more material possessions and power must be happier than those without them. Through joining Crisis Text Line, I have learned that emotions and feelings are the only factors to look at when assisting someone. When someone is not feeling well due to a mental illness, all other factors are reduced to nothing. This means that everyone is equally deserving of receiving help and we, as a part of humanity, must do our best to fulfill this need. Understanding this idea has helped me empathize with and support essentially anyone I encounter in my day-to-day life.

Becoming a Crisis Counselor has provided me with some of my most meaningful experiences. For that, I will never be thankful enough. Serving as a Crisis Counselor has and will continue to teach me life-long lessons that I will use every day.

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