I Was Stuck in a Rut. Becoming a Crisis Counselor Gave Me a New Spark.
It's been (gulp) two decades since I graduated with a master's degree in social work. I've been in my current position as a crisis clinical social worker for a pediatric hospital for (drum roll) over a dozen years.
My days are pretty packed: evaluating teenagers for mental health conditions, supporting parents of children with serious illnesses or injuries or providing grief support to family members whose loved ones perished in tragic accidents. At the end of the day, I'm at my "other” job: raising my own three strong-willed adolescents.
Serving a vulnerable patient population in a major urban institution while parenting a trio of teens is incredibly rewarding . But about a year ago, I started to feel stuck. On one hand, I had been feeling satisfied and good at my jobs. Yet, I was feeling stale and a bit past my prime. The feedback I once received about my unparalleled clinical documentation started to fade. The PTA presidents who once praised my silent auction skills no longer seemed impressed.
Let's face it: I had lost some of my spark. That spring in my step subsided. I felt rusty with my clinical skills. It seemed like my newly graduated colleagues exceeded my energy level by tenfold. They appeared so fresh in their approaches with patients and impressive use of technology.
I knew I needed a pick-me-up. A little inspiration. A challenge.
Crisis Worker to Crisis Counselor
As I was sifting through a resource list on a documentary website, the words "Crisis Text Line" caught my attention.
I had wanted to volunteer with a suicide hotline for years after witnessing close friends endure the unimaginable pain of losing loved ones to suicide. Crisis Text Line seemed so inviting and irresistible with its sense of innovation. Somehow, I was able to justify adding one more responsibility to my toppling plate. I knew I wanted to be a part of this modern microcosm of positivity.
But what could I, a veteran clinician, learn from a new non-profit staffed by many professionals who were in diapers when I received my diplomas? My initial thoughts of "you can't teach an old dog new tricks" were quickly abandoned for my new mantra: "It's never too late to learn."
All volunteers are assigned a coach who helps guide you through the self-paced online training and remains a consistent point of contact. Once you’re taking conversations, support for those heart-wrenching conversations is everywhere. Supportive supervisors staff the online platform 24/7 so that all Crisis Counselors have access to immediate help if you’re in a tough situation. Those volunteering alongside you on the platform also provide unconditional online companionship and debriefing opportunities in real time.
How Crisis Counseling Has Changed My Life
Crisis Text Line has become a "renaissance" for me in so many ways. It's been an invaluable addition to both my professional and personal development. Many of the techniques in training are based on classic clinical concepts such as rapport building and active listening. These tools are POWERFUL, and I knew that. But a refresher course really reminded me of how powerful they could be.
My sense of increased empathy has not gone unnoticed by coworkers, family, and friends. I'm hearing those magical words - "great use of reflection and paraphrasing" - in the workplace once again. I also feel more "digitally competent" than ever before, and am no longer intimidated by younger coworkers
I'm one of over 4,000 compassionate volunteer Crisis Counselors who come from a variety of backgrounds, ranging from university students interested in mental health to stay-at-home parents to retired school teachers. To date, I've helped almost 200 texters in crisis move from a hot moment to a cool calm. And all on my schedule, which means I have the freedom of volunteering while sipping jasmine tea in my pajamas.
Overall, this has been an unmatched and extraordinary volunteer experience. No wonder so many Crisis Counselors have stuck around since the company’s founding in 2013. And don't be surprised if your workplace performance increases or your quality of life improves the longer you stay with them.
Oh, and the best benefit of all - you're helping to save lives.
Claudia Boles, LCSW is a clinical social worker, suicide prevention advocate, mother and stepmother, wife of a pediatrician/medical geneticist, resident of Southern California. Some of my favorite self care? Aromatherapy, leisure walks, pedicures, unconditional friendships, live concerts, and independent films.