Today, I graduated from being a counselor-in-training to a freshly minted counselor. This means I can offer basic information to our callers without going through my supervisor first. Although it happened with very little fanfare, the transition was quite exciting. It’s amazing how much I’ve learnt in just over three weeks. Before I began this internship, I had no idea how someone went about getting a restraining order –I didn’t even know what the proper name of it was (in case you’re wondering, a restraining order against a current or former household or family member is called a Protection From Abuse order or PFA ). Now I can probably tell you in my sleep.
Over time I think this job must get easier. Certainly I’ve picked up the technical aspects quickly. I can now use our caller database, the automatic postage machine, and the very finicky paper shredder with a high degree of certainty that I’m doing it correctly. For “simple” calls, callers’ whose questions are very common, I know the answer off the top of my head. Some calls definitely still bamboozle me. I’m sure, however, the number of bamboozling calls will decrease as the amount of time I’ve spent at my internship increases.
Sometimes, however, working as a Telephone Counselor is just hard work. There are calls when you don’t have any good answers. As one of my professors likes to say, there is no “right-answer machine” to life. And there are some calls where you do have an answer, but the caller doesn’t like it.
The WLP Telephone Counselors provide legal information and offer potential solutions to callers. We can’t tell them what to do, however, even if we really want to.
If a caller is experiencing domestic violence, we always offer to tell them about various safety tips. The WLP has a comprehensive booklet that explains about safety planning. For those in abusive situations, it can be crucial that they have what is basically an escape plan. Most callers readily accept this information (of course, whether or not they utilize it is their own choice).
It is almost heartbreaking when a caller flat-out refuses to listen to information pertaining to his or her own safety or, after hearing the options, state that they won’t follow them. Some people aren’t ready to leave their home and/or family and “run away.” My natural impulse, which I’m sure is shared by many counselors both at the WLP and other hotlines, is to practically beg these callers to at least consider taking some of the steps. Have a bag packed, plan an escape route out of your home, have a safe place you can go to in an emergency. The only person who can decide to do this, however, is the caller.
As a Telephone Counselor, all I can tell you is what you can do, not what you should do. But sometimes, I really wish I could do more.