“A Glimmer of Hope”: Reflecting on 1000 Conversations at Crisis Text Line

This week I passed a major milestone as a Crisis Text Line crisis counselor– 1000 conversations! Currently Crisis Text Line groups crisis counselors into five levels from Level 1 for counselors who’ve had less than 20 conversations, to Level 5 for counselors with 1000+ conversations. That 1000th convo represented a long-sought goal to get to that top group and see my name in gold lettering on the online counseling platform! (Of note in a couple of weeks they are expanding to include 11 Levels, with the top level being 10,000 convos, so I won’t be in the top tier for long. 😂)

Here’s me chilling in my Crisis Text Line hoodie a few weeks ago. It’s a prize we get for spending 200 hours taking conversations.

And wow, first of all it’s gone by fast! I volunteered at Utah County Crisis Line (a phoneline) for about a year and a half, and I estimate I took less than 100 calls in total. The unique structure of CTL allows multiple conversations at a time, and no lulls in-between conversations, so I’ve gotten to see the full spectrum of crises in a short time. 

As I look back I recognize I’ve had some pretty tough conversations. There have been times when I felt I had nothing to offer the person in crisis. They share that they feel they’ve done everything they can do to make things better, but nothing every changes. Now imagine if they feel they can’t do anything to make things better, what I am to do when I’m not with them and don’t know them personally?

These conversations have best developed my overall counseling strategy, which is validate, validate, validate. There are few phrases more empowering than the simple phrase “it makes sense that you’re feeling how you do.”  I know I’ve been in emotional situations where I’ve thought “Am I crazy for reacting this way?” and I have needed to hear “it makes sense”. My toughest texters always get a good dose of validation. “It makes sense you’re afraid, or in pain, or feeling betrayed.” The biggest take away from all of my crisis counseling has been that a person in a crisis can’t get to a better place until they know what they’re feeling is valid.

Along the way to 1,000 conversations, there have been plenty of texters who found me unhelpful and I totally understand! I’ve totally used mental health resources that weren’t the right thing for me at that time, so I get it. However, as I wrap up conversations, probably 4 out of 5 texters express some kind of gratitude, the whole range of grateful statements, from “this helped a bit” to “you saved my life”. On the shift during which I reached 1,000 convos, I got a piece of texter feedback that sums it all up.

“I see a glimmer of hope for tomorrow”

Crisis counseling is not meant to cure mental illness. It’s meant to offer enough validation and coping strategies to get through the day and into a better mental state for thinking of long-term solutions. I am so grateful I’ve been able to offer that glimmer of hope to the texter who shared that, and likely many more.

And what does this all have to do with my journey to genetic counseling? As I mentioned, 1,000 conversations full of problems I can’t cure or solve has developed my personal counseling philosophy. In recent years crisis counseling or similar experience has become somewhat of a requirement for GC applicants. As I’ve shadowed, I’ve noticed that it’s easier for those GCs who do have crisis counseling training to settle into a psychological support role in a tough session. All of the counselors I’ve shadowed are fabulous and have unique strengths based on their background and interests. I hope that mine can be extensive practice in support and validation.

A person’s genetics is so out of their control. Genetics patients can feel extremely powerless when a genetic mutation plays a big role in their or their child’s life. Sometimes genetic testing has been exhausted, leaving the patient feeling uncertain and afraid. Sometimes genetic tests reveal life-altering results. I so wish we could wave a wand and fix the issue, just like I wish I could take away my texters’ pain. But just like I offer my texters a glimmer of hope, I hope to one day do that for my patients as well. Them knowing that someone cares and recognizes their pain is huge. I am so grateful that I’ve had to take this year before grad school to practice that supportive role even more.

I guess crisis counseling keeps me hopeful and excited for the future too. 😊

Next week I’ll be sharing an extra special post for Genetic Counselor Awareness Day (November 8th). If you want to be the first to know about it, follow my blog! To follow, scroll up, and you should see a Follow button appear in the lower right corner of your screen. Click that! ❤

-Laura Cooper-Hastings

In a crisis? Text HELLO to 741741 in the US, or to 686868 in Canada. You matter.

To volunteer with Crisis Text Line visit crisistextline.org/volunteer

 

 

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Advocacy: It Makes the Applicant Phase Worth It

Advocacy work is the bread and butter of preparing oneself to pursue any type of career in counseling. It’s what has helped me and many others know counseling is the right path. Luckily, a strong commitment to advocacy can overshadow many weaknesses on an application to genetic counseling school, or any kind of counseling school for that matter.

I will openly admit that I, like many grad school hopefuls, have weaknesses in my transcript and / or GRE scores (hello C from the first time I took Molecular Bio!). But I hope that by getting in to school one day, I can be one more example that it doesn’t take numerical perfection, rather a love for counseling mixed with a desire to constantly learn and apply science. Showing a commitment to help and counsel won’t look the same for every GC hopeful, so I’m excited to share both what it has looked like for me, and what others have done to gain that experience.

I started advocacy work at the local crisis hotline near BYU, Utah County Crisis Line. My first cycle applying, this experience was my only advocacy. I had volunteered there 1.5 years when applications were due. The crisis hotline is what many programs refer to as “traditional advocacy”. A crisis hotline can include general crisis lines, parent stresslines, sexual assualt hotlines, domestic violence hotlines and more. Probably over half of each accepted genetic counseling class will have some of this hotline experience.

Hotlines teach the principles of validating, risk assessing, active listening, empathizing, etc. The hotline connects well to genetic counseling because both crisis counseling and genetic counseling involve helping others cope with situations that the counselor cannot fix. I have counseled numerous people with lifelong depression that is not going to change over the course of one phone call. Mental illness, even when treated, can challenge the patient throughout their life and sometimes there aren’t great answers about how to cope. Similarly, genetic disease is not easily “fixed”. Solutions can range from difficult, invasive, or completely non-existent. In my opinion, the most valuable skill a future GC can learn at a hotline is how talk people through a myriad of imperfect options.

When I graduated and moved away from Provo, I looked into volunteering in a similar capacity up here in Salt Lake, but found that opportunity was only open to U of U students. So, not wanting to give up hotline volunteering, I turned to Crisis Text Line, and that turned out to be a great choice for me. I could (and lowkey probably will) spend a whole post talking about CTL and why I love it, but I don’t want to get too off track here. Outside of the plentiful opportunities to save lives, the best thing about CTL as an advocacy experience is the opportunity for progression and therein the opportunity for a letter of recommendation. CTL does not normally offer letters of recommendation and this restriction can be a downside of using it for grad school. However, they offer twice-yearly opportunities to progress to leadership and work directly under one or more of the organization-wide supervisors. With that leadership role, you can get a letter if needed. I highly recommend anyone using CTL as their advocacy to go out for the leadership roles! First, I adore being a spike captain and supporting the other counselors on my team. I now also have a truly unique aspect of my advocacy that I can highlight in apps. Fingers crossed that it does something for me!

Here’s my dog supporting me on one of my shifts 😍

Some programs will also say they like to see potential students working with people with illness or disabilities. A program director shared with me that this kind of work shows an awareness of what it’s like to live differently than yourself, which is a key of empathetic counseling.

To gain this exposure, this year I started volunteering at Primary Children’s Hospital and guys it’s a blast. My husband volunteers with me so that’s a bonus. We make putty, play board games, color, run a pumpkin patch, and hear the most incredible and interesting stories from kids in the hospital. We aren’t allowed our phones on shift so this is the only photo I have and honestly that preserves the playroom magic.

What I’m saying is advocacy is fun and, for me, the best part of still being in this applicant stage. I may never again have the time or energy to stay up all night texting people in crisis and I may never have another Magentix build-party with a child as they tell me about airplane (helicopter) that took them to the hospital. Having advocacy to look forward to makes this whole year of being a lab dweller worth it.

Advocacy can take many forms. Many students do hotlines, but others work as autism aides, sexual assault outreach support, camp counselors, HIV clinic or planned parenthood advisors, and more. Even if you’ve gained counseling insight from clerical work or tutoring, it can apply! The main principle is learning to talk people through their options, guide them, and allow them to make choices for themselves. And my personal principle, find advocacy work you really enjoy. The hotline works for me, but not for everyone. Explore until you find work that excites you and gives you clear insight into why you want a counseling career.

Because honestly…

This piece of applying to GC school sure beats studying for the GRE. 😂

Talk to y’all next week. If you have any topic requests, do get in touch by comment here or on FB/Insta/Reddit, wherever Laura Cooper-Hastingses are found.

-Laura Cooper-Hastings