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History of the Crisis Hotline Movement

Marcia from the National Hopeline (Lawrence, KS) finds our history very interesting – and our future very exciting – and has this attached exchange from this elist in December 2000: From Pamela B, Crisis Intervention: About 10 years (gosh how time flies!) I put together an AAS pre-conference presentation on “The Evolution of the Crisis Line” and tried to cover the history / process of crisis hotlines in the U.S. Some of what I found, and the conference attendees reinforced, was: Many hotlines started in late 60’s / early 70’s due to community mental health movement, trend toward paraprofessional intervention, and following the lead of the L.A. Suicide Prevention Center, and, to some extent, The Samaritans models. Most hotlines go through a similar evolution: they start out as a grass-roots, do-gooder organization, often in some church basement or other “folksy” place. There is tremendous excitement and enthusiasm, extensive use of volunteers and community involvement. The next phase involves getting more structured, defined, hiring staff (an executive director, for example) and needing to do fundraising and develop budgets, personnel policies, etc. Third phase was the professionalism phase where procedures became more clearly defined, training improved and became more professional clinically, staff were in designated roles, experts provided supervision or training, processes more based on best practices and research. Funding became more guaranteed and adequate and the program became integrated into established service delivery community.  The hotline was now part of the establishment, not on the fringe. The last (?) seems to be one of technological capability and specialization where crisis lines become computerized, highly organized, use technology effectively and in a thoughtful way, as well as start to branch out into specialized services such as teen lines, topic-specific hotlines, training, consultation, or other crisis services. Anyway, thought this overview might be helpful in light of the discussion.  I would love to hear people’s thoughts on the next phase or additions / corrections to the one’s mentioned. Pam B.   Response from Don D. Contact Trumbull, Warren, Ohio Pam … You have presented an excellent analysis of the life cycle of crisis lines. I do some workshops on organizational change and transition and i have developed the same analysis. I believe that the next phase is the reinvent phase.  Many crisis lines are stand alone independent not for profits. As we continue to face the challenges the following questions will need to be asked – 1. What can we do to cause our organization survive, grow and continue to provide quality hotline services given the changes that are and will continue to occur? 2.What can we do today that will fundamentally change the nature of our organization in the future? 3.What structure(s) will best enable our organization to continue to provide its services and programs to the people we serve? These are not easy questions. I believe given so much that is happening they demand our full effort and energy. My center has and continues to ask and discuss these questions making the appropriate changes that are necessary to make us stronger. So i believe the phase many organizations are entering is to begin to ask how can we reinvent ourselves to continue to survive, grow and serve our communities better? Don D. Warren, Ohio   Denise B. Telephone Counseling and Referral Service, Inc. Telephone Counseling and Referral Service was founded in 1970 as a program on the Florida State University campus. We were incorporated as an independent nonprofit in 1976. What I’ve always heard is that we originally provided some face-to-face crisis services in addition to the hotline component, and one of the primary purposes of these services was to help people “ride out bad trips.” The story is that we even had a special room for this! Maybe it was the youth cultural phenomena of the late 60s and early 70s that led many communities to set up crisis services? Denise B. Telephone Counseling and Referral Service, Inc. Tallahassee, Florida


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