A friend is a phone call away

The next time you find yourself with a problem and you dial a crisis line, don’t raise your hopes too high.

The person at the other end of the line will not make promises. Neither will she dish out unconvincing recipes on what to do.

The most you’ll get is a sincere, beautiful person at the end of the line who will say “You can be excited about life again.” You’ll probably return to a life that is worse than ever but with your worth confirmed.

I called once. I thought that was excellent return for a phone call.

I spent 15 minutes stripping myself of secrets I had only told my best friend. For someone who has already carefully dressed up her hang-ups, it was terrible. But the voice on the other end was kind and she was intelligent with a sort of tender detachment that can loosen the tongue and melt inhibitions. Of course, I had to do it for this article. Beside myself with guilt, I told her the next day and apologized. But forever more. I know she’ll either think it was a piece of good theater, a rotten trick or both. To me, it was one of my most truthful moments but probably deserve it. Pranksters, says Mila, a social worker at Lifeline (which is at Welcome House, a crisis-intervention center for women) is all part of a day’s work. Indeed, it’s all part of the commitment these people make to be there at the end of the line waiting before they are even sure somebody is going to call.

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SISTER PILAR VESOZA supervises the wards of Welcome House.

But people do call. They are queuing to be heard. Crisis Line which shares offices with In Touch Foundation at 6241 Manalac St., Makati easily gets a 100 calls day, Lifeline from seven to ten calls. Sister Pilar Versoza who oversees the running of Welcome House at 1641 Zamora St., Pandacan sleeps with the telephone beside her. It is not unusual for her to hold long house of conversation with virtual strangers who pick up the phone on impulse. Crisis Line on the other hand has a pool of counselors, many from different countries, who alternate shifts from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

While the lines are just numbers in the directory that are fair game to pranksters, over the years it has lent solace to people who for the time being need an ‘outsider’ in their lives, somebody to listen long and listen hard, and maybe find the answers where they find none.

Telephone counseling enables those dedicated ‘outsiders’ to reach a greater number of these people than is possible with face-to-face counseling. Ellery Owens, coordinator of Crisis Line says, “There are no fees needed, only access to a telephone. There’s a large number of people who do not want face-to-face counseling. The telephone is a method they can control. It makes them identity-free.”

Crisis Line and Lifeline offer telephone counseling for information and referral, marital and family problems, drug/alcohol abuse, spouse/child abuse, cross-cultural adjustment, depression/suicide, career problems as well as school problems. “Crisis Line is strictly first aid counseling. Everything is done over the phone. If the caller warrants face-to-face counseling however, then he is referred to agencies who do face-to-face counseling,” says Owens.

Lifeline, on the other hand, offers, aside from telephone counseling, shelter care at Welcome House for female clients in crisis who need short-term shelter. With group therapy which consists of activities and exercises on decision-making and human relations, solutions to problems slowly take shape.

SISTER ROSE: Providing a listening ear for troubled souls.
SISTER ROSE: Providing a listening ear for troubled souls.

More often than not, the problems center on sexuality, family-related problems, and boy-girl relationship, many of them in fact, pregnancy related cases. In this are, Sister Pilar disclaims the moralistic posturing the church is often accused of. “We have always been for the natural method of family planning which involves a total awareness of one’s sexuality and fertility. We teach these methods to pre-teeners. We have single young callers asking how to prevent pregnancy and we tell them, ‘If you’re going to do it, at least do it this way,’ and we teach them. We cannot prevent them from doing what they want to do.”

Some callers usually need just the strength and willingness to walk out on a lover, a strength drawn from counseling and theraphies that constantly emphasize the importance of self-worth, while helping them to rise above their feelings of rejection.

For the social workers and the counselors, all these require more than just cultivating an engaging voice. Counselors of Crisis line go through a 50-hour course which includes basic counseling skills. Says Owen, “We teach specific responses to certain problems. Counseling is not just a matter of giving advice but helping them understand their problems. We’re not there to solve their problems but to help then find ways to solve their problems.”

And who are these people looking into our checkered florid lives? Owens, to guard the anonymity of Crisis Line counselors provides scant but telling details. “We have counselors as young as twenty-one and as old as sixty. They’s better educated than the average person with degrees in business, education and are usually very successful in their own field. In other words, they’re not just bored people looking for things to do.

“We don’t get paid for this,” says Sandra, a telephone counselor, “but we take this very seriously. We’re here because we want to.”

And so they are, close to home, just a phone call away. They may not know exactly how bad things are, but they realize something we probably don’t: that we are better than we think.

(Lifeline, at Welcome House, is at tels. 58-28-02 and 58-28-22. Crisis Line, at In Touch Foundation, is at tels. 872284 and 899115. For more intensive counseling on face-to-face level, call In Touch at the same numbers.)


Source: Corotan, G. (1988). A friend is a phone call away. Philippine Daily Inquirer. pp. 24.