Photo courtesy of Crisis Text Line.
Crisis Text Line
by Katheryn Ashley Barbosa, BSW
In the fall of 2015, I was enrolled in a graduate level crisis intervention course at Florida State University (FSU). I was intrigued by the content of the class and I thought I would do well in that area of social work when the time came for me to enter the field. I turned in several assignments that semester thinking I did great, so I was surprised and humbled when those assignments were returned and I saw all the red marks. There was a lot of room for improvement, and I was worried about how well I would do when I would actually have to put those skills to use. I needed more practice than one semester of a crisis intervention course could offer.
I had been working the last decade in a grocery store, and my background in social work was limited to small volunteering roles and a bachelor’s level internship at a nursing home. I was nervous about getting into the field, but I knew that I had really liked the content of that crisis intervention class and wanted to have a chance to practice what I had learned, to bolster my confidence in a helping profession. I was still in school at FSU, earning my MSW online, and I was still working in that grocery store, so jumping into a new job was not in the cards yet. In November, I decided to do an Internet search on crisis hotlines, thinking that there might be a volunteer opportunity in my area that I could try. The first thing that came up was Crisis Text Line, and it looked like the perfect volunteer opportunity.
Crisis Text Line is a service that has live, trained crisis counselors available 24 hours a day, seven days a week for those times when you may be feeling in crisis. You can text 741741 anywhere in the United States and a counselor will text back with you, helping you move from a hot moment to a cool calm to stay safe and healthy. To become a volunteer counselor with them, you have to pass a background check; be at least 18 years old; have access to a computer with a secure, reliable Internet connection; and commit to volunteering four hours a week for one year. Four hours a week? I could do that.
At the time I stumbled upon Crisis Text Line, this nonprofit had just turned two years old. I had never heard of it, and I wasn’t sure if it was a legitimate service. What better way to find out than to text the number? So I did, and they replied, and I said I was just checking to see if they were real. They confirmed their existence, and I signed up that day. It was like applying for a job. I had to pass that background check, and I even needed at least two references who could confirm that I was a decent person outside of what’s on paper. Once my references checked out and my background was found to be clear, I was scheduled for training. Three weeks later, I was taking a 34-hour web-based training course focused on reflective listening, collaborative problem solving, and crisis management. At the end of that training, just in time for Christmas, I was taking my first supervised shifts.
I could go on and on about all of the things that I love about Crisis Text Line. I truly could. I could tell you about how on August 1, 2013, Crisis Text Line launched quietly in Chicago and El Paso, and in four months had reached all 295 area codes in the United States with zero marketing involved. Or about how every single piece of data collected from the more than 20 million messages exchanged since 2013 has helped develop the largest open mental health data set on CrisisTrends.org and helps fuel collaborative research around the world. I could share with you that we have done more than 3,200 active rescues of texters who felt that suicide was the only option, but they reached out to us in their darkest moments and we were able to send emergency personnel to where they were. Crisis Text Line has saved lives.
With all of that to be proud of, the most outstanding aspect of this organization, to me, is the sense of community and support I receive from my fellow crisis counselors. Even more mind-blowing is that Nancy Lublin, the CEO of Crisis Text Line, is truly inspiring in her ability to make each one of her 1,592 (and counting) crisis counselors feel that we are growing and building this crisis management empire together.
Volunteering with Crisis Text Line has helped me hone skills that are imperative to succeeding in the world of social work. My very first shift was a little scary. My first conversation was with a person who had self-harmed and was contemplating suicide who then texted our number. I had just completed training and was fully aware of the concept of active listening, but I froze. That community I mentioned? Well, they were there for me in that moment. Your first 20 conversations are fully monitored by the shift supervisors, and there is a chat function to reach out to your fellow crisis counselors when you need them, so you are never alone during a shift. And if you are never alone during a shift, your texter is never alone, either.
Nancy Lublin and her team are doing incredible things at Crisis Text Line. She treats her employees and volunteers with respect, giving us encouragement, continued training and tips, weekly newsletters, self-care incentives, and the always awesome personal shout-outs. There are all kinds of people who volunteer at Crisis Text Line—you don’t need a degree to be a counselor. There is also a paid staff of counselor supervisors full of unique individuals who all hold a master’s degree in social work or a similar field. There are a few licensed social workers, but having an MSW or master’s in another mental health profession is the minimum requirement for employment with Crisis Text Line.
In May 2016, I began my final internship for my MSW working as a child protective investigator in Florida. I can honestly say that my ability to talk to clients in this internship has been shaped by my months of volunteering, and the verbiage I was timid about a year ago now comes naturally to me in the field. This display of skills came in handy when I applied for a paying job with the agency in which I was interning. They had witnessed my ease of communication and the confidence I had with clients when interviewing during investigations, and they made the decision to hire me recently.
I am ever grateful for the chance to be a volunteer in this organization, and I would encourage any and every social worker to consider applying and joining the team. We always need more counselors. For the new social worker looking for experience as I was, this is the place that will help you put a little under your belt.
To find more information on Crisis Text Line, or to take the step and join our team, you can go to www.crisistextline.org and find out for yourself everything that I’ve highlighted and more. Can’t wait to welcome you into the community!
Katheryn Ashley Barbosa, BSW, is finishing her MSW at Florida State University and volunteers for Crisis Text Line. She is employed full time as a child protective investigator in Northwest Florida.