A typical day in the life of a tele-counsellor goes something like this — manning the phone all day long answering distress calls by people who are either depressed, are with suicidal tendencies or simply want somebody to pour their heart out to.
Many a time, these tele-counsellors with their patience and understanding have also helped a person return from the brink of a breakdown or suicide. Imagine what it might be like for them to go on day after day patiently listening to people’s woes, offer them unbiased, non-judgemental solutions, keep strict confidentiality about all the cases they deal with and yet not let the stress or the pressure of it all get the better of them.
Says Aparna Adhikari, operations manager at the suicide helpline provided by Makro Foundation, “It can get challenging to digest all the information we receive, handle the negative emotions and yet remain unaffected. But we’ve been trained to leave work-related thoughts behind at the end of the day.
We discuss every case we receive with colleagues to get a fresh perspective and to share the burden since we cannot discuss details outside the office. At the end of each work day, we ensure we take a break practising some relaxation techniques before we head home.”
Most suicide helplines also conduct weekly sessions for their counsellors to share their cases and dilemma with their colleagues. “Through these group sharing sessions we are able to address whatever is bothering us. Because, as counsellors we cannot discuss any case, no matter how troublesome, with even our spouses or mothers. Besides, an important pre-requisite for all counsellors is to strike an emotional balance within themselves in order to deal with other people’s problems,” says D Rani, a tele-counsellor.
Most helplines in the City hire qualified psychologists to help their employees cope with the stress of their job. “These sessions, usually held once a week, help us demystify our emotions. Sometimes a call can last a couple of hours. In such a scenario, we share the call between colleagues to avoid getting overwhelmed. We use this break to de-stress ourselves before getting back on the job,” says Aparna. Mind games, relaxation techniques, exercises of deep breathing, following a balanced diet and yoga also help the counsellors.
On an average, these counsellors handle around 10 to 15 calls in a day, some of which are by people who are on the brink of suicide. While each story is heartrending, the counsellor tries to stay as objective as possible. “As counsellors, it is important that we shouldn’t have strong opinions on what the caller reveals to us, are emotionally strong, have a stable personal life ourselves and are trained to handle situations like these,” explains Akheel A Siddiqui, director, Roshni, a suicide prevention helpline.
“Besides, most of the calls we receive are by people who are highly stressed. So it is extremely important that we choose our responses and words with care as even the slightest of mistakes can trigger extreme emotions. One of the most important abilities we require for this job is to listen to the other person, and not just hear them.”
But aren’t there times when even a counsellor is overwhelmed by the intensity of it all? “We are put through rigorous training before we take up the job. This equips us to remain objective and cope with the stress or keep away from getting personally involved. But yes, there are times when, at the end of a call, we feel helpless as we cannot help the caller any further or solve their problem completely. However, we are then trained to let go of it and move on,” says Akheel.