“Hello, this is SFU Nightline…”

We’re here to listen!

Rohene Ishmail and Sonu Purhar

Reprinted from "Campuses" issue of Visions Journal, 2007, 4 (3), pp. 34-35

Answering calls for a crisis line is a rewarding, and often terrifying, experience.

We joined Simon Fraser University’s after-hours telephone crisis line, Nightline, in 2005. The SFU crisis line is an entirely student-run organization. Volunteers provide confidential and anonymous lay counselling services to callers in crisis. They are available each weekday from late afternoon until the following morning, and around the clock every weekend and holiday.

The service is geared toward Simon Fraser University students. However, we are a public service and do take calls from students at other universities and colleges, as well as from people outside the student demographic. If a caller has trouble communicating in English, we will refer them to an alternative crisis line or counselling centre that offers services in the caller’s native language.

No matter who is on the other end of the line, our goal remains the same: to create a non-judgmental environment that allows callers to speak and be heard on any issue.

Nightline volunteers complete 35 hours of intensive training in client-centred counselling. Especially useful are practise sessions called “fishbowls,” during which trainees practise the skills they are learning in scenarios that simulate actual calls. Each trainee is paired with a mentor, a senior member of the line who helps with questions or difficulties. Trainees must pass a Mastery Role Play assessment before they can begin taking calls, and must also commit to working a minimum of three shifts per month and attending all required meetings and supplementary training.

Nightline was originally started by the SFU Student Society. Later, it was taken over by SFU Health & Counselling Services, which provides students with clinical supervision and input. Both areas fund the crisis line.

In 2007, Nightline received over 200 calls, with the highest call volumes occurring during exam period.

Why call?

We strongly believe that every university and college needs a crisis line. Life can be stressful, and not everyone has someone willing to hear about it. Being able to pick up the phone and know that the person on the other end is ready to listen can make a big difference.

A phone-in service ensures that callers who might be uncomfortable with face-to-face interactions are not prevented from seeking help. Callers are assured that their anonymity will be protected and their confidentiality respected.

As students, we understand what other students are going through. We know that it’s much easier to talk to someone who understands and can empathize with your situation. Calling means talking to a person who:

  • will try to understand your feelings rather than impose their own suggestions

  • will actively listen to you, with interest and without distraction

  • is trained to deal with a variety of crisis situations

We give out the crisis line number with the expectation that people with any concern will call—even if they don’t think their issue is a crisis. Whatever the problem, we always listen with an open mind and try our very best to be of help. Some common issues people call about are:

  • stress over an exam

  • worries about a relationship

  • problems at home

  • loneliness

  • depression

  • suicidal thoughts

  • you name it!

We make referrals to both on- and off-campus service agencies. These range from the university’s Health & Counselling Services, to the BC NurseLine, to addictions counselling. Nightline volunteers strive to ensure that each caller receives referrals that will most benefit their unique situation.

Keeping Nightline volunteers strong

Taking calls is emotionally rewarding, but it can be draining too. The magnitude and importance of what we do on the line reminds us that we need our own system of support as we try to support others.

Student volunteers receive ongoing assistance and clinical supervision from both the Nightline coordinator and a qualified counsellor. Shift leaders—volunteers with at least one year of experience on the line—are trained to assist volunteers who have their own questions or personal difficulties. It’s also important for volunteers to be able to talk with each other about their feelings and experiences.

In our three years on the line, both of us were shift leaders and mentors, and Rohene was the Nightline coordinator. Additionally, we were involved with training incoming volunteers and new shift leaders, making it critical for us to be mentally and emotionally available for the rest of our team.

A lesson for everyone

Soon after our training in 2005, we dubbed ourselves the “musketeers”—a reference to the solidarity that the crisis line brought to our friendship. It was only one of many ways that the line profoundly affected each of our lives.

The most important thing we’ve learned is that just by being there—by picking up the phone and listening to what our callers have to say—we made a huge difference in their lives. This doesn’t stop with Nightline. It’s a lesson everyone can learn: by just being there for someone, you can have a significant impact in his or her life.

 
About the authors

Rohene is currently an SFU student majoring in Psychology. Her recent three years with SFU Nightline has given her a profound appreciation for the difficulties people can encounter in life. Rohene’s career goal is to support students in their transitions and ensure they have a balanced, supportive environment.

Sonu recently graduated from Simon Fraser University with a double major in English and Psychology. She spent three years with SFU Nightline, both as a volunteer and shift leader. Sonu is currently pursuing an MBA.

 

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