Hotlines, or helplines, provide different types of support over the phone, from information, advice and referrals to crisis intervention services for those in distress. Hotline work is an excellent way to gain basic clinical skills; although some believe this won’t give you enough real experience to be a good social worker. Here, we’ll dispel this myth and learn 10good reasons why you SHOULD volunteer for a hotline.
1.Find out if you can work with a certain demographic
There are a lot of different hotlines available to help callers with the serious issues they may face, including sexual assault, domestic violence, suicide, eating disorders, substance abuse, , discrimination, sexuality and homelessness. If there’s ever been a demographic within social work that you’ve been curious about exploring, a hotline can be great exposure to that particular world.
2.Receive valuable training
Agencies can’t afford to have just anyone walk in and start answering phone calls, so they require training. Training is taken very seriously since the success of a hotline often can determine funding for a non-profit. Training helps volunteers understand and assist callers, which may include establishing rapport, listening, assessing the situation and exploring options. You will also likely learn about ethics and how to handle specific challenges that arise within a particular demographic. The added bonus is that training can oftentimes be a great way to make friends and network with people who have similar passions.
3.Participate in hands-on learning
Most training sessions consist of mock calls—where you and another volunteer take turns being a caller and the hotline counselor—to practice how to speak and act on the phone before the real thing. This is a great way to work through potentially difficult scenarios and talk with the training staff about how you felt after the experience. Mock calls can also help you become more comfortable with addressing certain issues that you may feel cautious about before your real shifts start.
4.Learn the do’s and don’ts
Hotline work is a way to learn about confidentiality, empathy, listening, and appropriate and professional conversation techniques. We learn the best from our own experiences.
5. Appreciate the importance of self-care
Self-care is quite possibly one of the most important things you’ll learn working on a hotline. In today’s society, we get wrapped up thinking we don’t ever have time for ourselves—it’s always “GO, GO, GO!” Working on a hotline can teach you the importance of taking time for yourself and stepping away from your work physically, mentally, and emotionally to recharge. Self-care doesn’t have to be an extravagant gift (like a massage, although you should do that too if you can!). It can be anything from taking a nap or a hot shower, eating comfort food, or something that makes you feel comfortable. Learning self-care is crucial to becoming a successful social worker, too, because it teaches you how to combat compassion fatigue—so you don’t become cynical and lose the ability to empathize . In addition, you can’t help someone who is in need if you are not mentally and emotionally sound yourself.
6.Learn about yourself
Hotline work can help you discover things about yourself you didn’t know before. Volunteers often find out what they are good and bad at and what kinds of individuals they click with the most. You will also find out how much you can handle—most people surprise themselves about how well they handle difficult situations.
7.Take advantage of flexible hours
Most hotlines are 24/7 (though not all) and are always in need of volunteers to keep them running! So pick shifts that fit your schedule.
8.Find job opportunities
I frequently receive emails with job announcements from supervisors at the agency where I volunteer. These announcements range from entry-level jobs to higher-level management positions. If you’re a dedicated volunteer, supervisors will also write great letters of recommendation for work or school.
Most hotlines require counselors to have an alias or no name at all. This anonymity helps to keep you safe, as well as your caller. You may never find out what actually happened after a call, but in that moment, you were truly there for that caller and were doing your best to provide support and resources. And that’s a pretty great feeling!
10.Change lives and have a positive impact
Perhaps the most important aspect of hotline work is the ability to make a difference. Many people who call hotlines are just looking for someone they can talk to who won’t judge them or try to “fix” their problem—and sometimes a listening ear is all it takes. Being there for someone to talk things out can literally be the difference between life and death sometimes and should never be underestimated. You can share important information through a hotline—both resources and the facts about any particular social issue. This is a great place to help educate your caller about what they are going through, share with them that they are not alone and there are others experiencing similar situations. Think about it this way—if your caller is disclosing a huge secret to you, and you have a positive reaction, it’ll only encourage the person to get proper help and have faith in humanity.
Jeenie Yoon is an Admissions Counselor for the MSW@USC program and has spent the last three years working in rape and sexual violence advocacy. She has worked for organizations such at the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, and the DC Rape Crisis Center. She believes that creating the best social workers will be one of the most powerful tools in stopping sexual violence.