Heard but not seen: Exploring youth counsellors’ experiences of telephone counselling
Keywords:Telephone counselling, invisibility, anonymity, telephone counsellor wellbeing, working conditions
INTRODUCTION: Human service practitioners who work over the telephone are physically invisible to their clients and this invisibility shapes their work. Existing literature suggests that physical invisibility, coupled with anonymity and the immediacy of service provision are defining features of telephone counselling. However, little research has explored how telephone counsellors experience these features in any real depth.
METHODOLOGY: This article reports on a case study conducted at a youth helpline in Aotearoa New Zealand. Qualitative, semi-structured interviews were conducted with 10 practitioners on their experiences of telephone counselling work. One key finding from this case study is discussed: the impact of invisibility and anonymity.
FINDINGS: Findings indicate that practitioners’ experiences of delivering telephone counselling are more divergent than those presented in extant literature. While telephone counsellors face challenges delivering non-face-to-face counselling support, the physical invisibility of this medium, coupled with a supportive work environment can also provide potential benefits to counsellors.
CONCLUSIONS: Counsellors’ experiences of telephone counselling work appear to be more nuanced than traditionally understood. While practitioners may experience a range of possible challenges in delivering telephone counselling, such as responding to hoax and abusive callers, they also experience benefits such feeling relaxed, and supported by colleagues and supervisors. Management practices, such as flexible rules and accessible supervision, can help practitioners manage the impact working non-face-to-face with clients. Given the ongoing popularity of telephone counselling, further research is needed on the working conditions that promote practitioner wellbeing and job satisfaction.
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