How to Volunteer at a Crisis Hotline

Volunteering at a crisis hotline center is an amazing and important job. Through your training and patience, you will be able to help callers through very difficult situations and hopefully help set them back on course and even save some lives.


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    Assess yourself. You need to have a strong heart and spirit to put yourself in the situations required of a crisis hotline volunteer. Things could happen on the phone that could be disastrous for you emotionally. Make sure your need to help others isn't an unhealthy need. If you have been through difficult issues yourself in life, be sure to have resolved them all satisfactorily or else you might find old wounds being reopened when learning about other people's ordeals. This role can be excellent if you are training to be a psychologist or a counselor, or if you need counseling type skills for a range of areas in your work life.
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    Compile a list of all the local crisis centers and their contact information. Some places may not have volunteer openings, so cast a wide net. Or, there may be a waiting list for the training. In this case, be prepared to simply add your name to the list, expressing your enthusiasm and to check in regularly to see if they have a space for you. They'll remember you if you stay in touch!
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    Pick two or three crisis centers that you would like to contact, so that you can focus on your favorite or most convenient ones. Remember, this is going to be a second (or third) job for you, so don't pick a place that is 50 miles (80 km) away unless you really, really want to drive that far each week.
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    Call the center of your choice and find out what kind of screening process they have for potential volunteers. If you need to make an appointment, do so. Fill out an application online, if they have a website.
    • Ask about background checks, such as with the police or any other relevant checks or referees that they may want. They need to know that investing time in training you is a wise choice and that you'll be committed.
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    Meet with the center director or head volunteer. Make sure you present yourself accordingly. Be neat and dressed nicely. Bring along anything that you've been asked to show to center staff, such as reference documents and ID.
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    If all goes well, you should be able to start training. Things you may need to learn are:
    • Emergency procedures - what to do if things aren't going well with a caller.
    • State laws concerning the operation of a crisis center - these concern the liabilities and restrictions that are important to know, even as a volunteer.
    • The range of help available out in the community to direct callers to, from financial and legal to rehabilitation or detox help.
    • Counseling techniques - getting people who are really hurt to talk to you openly or even at all can be difficult. You'll need to learn the ways of helping people to open up and how you can demonstrate trust. Also, most crisis hotlines will teach you that your role is to facilitate the caller's own decision-making process through prompts and guides. You don't make the decisions for the caller, nor do you counsel.
    • Role-playing – this will happen with other volunteers as a means of practicing. It's a really good way to work out how you'll react under certain pressures.
    • Anything else that the center requires you to learn.
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    Once you pass all the criteria that the center has for you, they may team you up with another volunteer for your first sessions. This will allow you to work under supervision and gives you added support if you aren't sure what to do or say next.
    • Don't wing it with people whose lives are hanging by a thread. Use established procedures and training to get the person back from the brink.
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    When you have proven that you are an able call-taker, the center may set you off on your own. They will schedule regular hours for you to cover phones and you should treat this like a really important job. When you volunteer, you are required to put in so many hours each week and you have a grand total that you need to accrue. This is a great responsibility, so don't take it lightly.
    • Don't place too much pressure on yourself. You are there to help people – you can't diagnose or advise them, so rely on your training and people skills to help them find the right people who can help and to make their own choices.
    • Be sure to ask what happens when you're unwell, unable to attend a session you're put down for or when you go on vacation. Giving plenty of warning in advance will help them to make the appropriate arrangements to cover for you.


  • Be prepared to sacrifice. Sacrifice is at the heart of volunteering.
  • Maintain confidentiality. Don't talk about your callers outside of the center, and inside the center only talk with people that need to know.
  • It helps people in crisis to talk with people who have empathy for them and their problems.
  • Be sure to let the crisis center know if you have any disabilities that need support. For example, if you have difficulty hearing clearly over the phone, you might need a different headset or a loudspeaker system, etc. Provided they know you're committed and are a valuable volunteer, they'll do their best to help you.


  • Don't lose the right mindset and become callous. You're dealing with people that need help. They aren't stupid or dummies. They are hurt, desperate people.
  • You really need to make sure that the decision to volunteer is right for you. If you are emotionally unstable or unable to cope with tough situations, it might not be good to volunteer in this role, at least not until you've worked through all your issues and are able to deal with the emotions objectively.
  • Be prepared for bad things. If there is something that you can't deal with, talk to one of the other volunteers or the director.

Things You'll Need

  • Appropriate training

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