Expressing our emotions such as fear, happiness, anger, sadness and many others used to be taboo and reserved for intimate moments or therapy. Today it has be-come part of our day-to-day exchanges. Whatever our condition or profession, our emotional intelligence can help us deal with all kinds of situation. We are at the beginning of a different era in communication which is likely to influence our relations with others and with ourselves.
Scientists around the world have demonstrated that the way human beings manage their emotions has an impact on their physical and mental health. Being able to manage our own frustrations and disagreements with others, developing empathic listening and our openness to learning from our relationships, doubtlessly contribute to our emotional health. Several experiences around the world are raising the hope that these skills will one day be learned by everyone.
Focusing on empathic listening means being completely available, acknowledging and reflecting one another’s emotions and basic human needs. Receiving empathy enables clarity, relief, trust and self-confidence; it leads to resilience and healing.
Listening in crisis
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) there are around 1 million suicides every year, and, for every suicide there are approximately 20 attempted suicides. There are also many others who may not be suicidal, but urgently need access to appropriate emotional support services.
Helplines work worldwide to provide emotional support and to reduce suicide. They listen to people who are in distress, without judging them or telling them what to do.
Listening to people who are lonely, despairing or considering suicide can make the difference between life and death. People who feel suicidal are often so focused on a particular problem or pain that they find it difficult to see a way forward.
Talking openly to a listener of a helpline, in a safe and confidential environment, can help.
Many callers, in fact, prefer to deal initially with an anonymous and confidential listener rather than with a professional counsellor.
Helplines are available whenever a caller feels a need to communicate, with no delay waiting for an appointment, few time restrictions, and no fees.
Helplines provide a valuable service, reducing the load on professional crisis services, while improving the quality of life for members of our society.
The listening centres also play a crucial role in reducing the number of people who develop serious mental health problems and in eliminating stigma associated with mental or emotional problems.
What is a Helpline?
A help line is a service which provides listening and emotional support to anyone in distress, in an individual, family or psycho-social crisis, who is asking for support, and could be feeling lonely, isolated, unhappy, frightened, worried, in shock or suicidal.
Services should be urgent, non-judgmental, empathetic, respectful, caring and provided by trained volunteers or staff.
All helpline centres offer this availability by telephone and some offer access to emotional support also in other ways:
- Text (WhatsApp)
- Drop-in centres (face-to-face)
- Outreach programmes in the community
- Websites for people to access self-help and other information
- Self-help and other information in different formats, such as leaflets, videos, CD and DVDs
Some services provide "post-disaster support" in response to natural disasters such as hurricanes, flooding damage or earthquakes. In some contexts helplines may also have plans in place for possible man-made disasters such as railway/road crashes, fires, terrorist attacks and other such events.
Empathic listening in helplines’ practice
People who call helplines often express feelings and emotions related to suffering and thoughts of death.
The helplines are the place where what cannot be expressed elsewhere can be told to and held by another human being, who is usually a volunteer with no therapeutic aims and ready to provide a respectful and empathic listening, without judging, advising or making comparisons.
One of the most powerful ways to support people in distress, prevent suicide and develop emotional well-being is to understand with respect what others are experiencing and help them recognise their inner resources.
Trained volunteers of helplines offer a quality relationship based on non-judgemental listening, focused on what is most alive in the other person in terms of feelings and essential needs. It is an attitude, deciding to be completely available for someone, putting aside personal preoccupations and thoughts, being there, ready to offer full attention.
This is what is called empathic listening.
Empathy is first based on presence: being simply present for the other person and alive to what he is experiencing. Receiving empathy helps the caller to step back; it helps him to stay connected with himself, clarifying, beyond his emotions, which of his fundamental needs are not being satisfied in his life right now.
Need to talk and to be listened
If you are feeling in distress and need to talk to someone, you can find a person ready to listen to you.
The contents of the call are highly confidential and the caller has the right to remain anonymous.
The service is free of charge to the caller.
Find a helpline near you or a centre that offers emotional support via internet.
Training listening skills
Training for listeners
Helplines’ volunteers experience every day on the phone the need of managing their own emotions and get properly in contact with those of the callers. By developing listening skills and learning how to manage emotions, they benefit from better emotional health for themselves and are able to provide an effective service to the callers.
The main chance to improve the quality of the listening services is taking care of the copying and emotional skills of listeners through a qualitative training.
Empowering listening skills
A 120 hours training to provide the basic listening skills to people with any kind of background. The effectiveness of the training was measured by scientific based assessments.
The training is one of the outputs of the project EmPoWEring - Educational Path for Emotional Wellbeing, funded by the European Program Erasmus + and realized in 2015-2017.
Transforming aggression into balanced emotions
A training concept was developed to help listeners dealing with emotions of aggression and violence, both of themselves and of the callers.
This training was presented at the IFOTES congress in Vienna in July 2010. It is available to TES trainers for the permanent training of listeners.
Tools for crisis: pathway from vulnerability to resilience
The training helps develop some basic competences that help reorganize the “cognitive landscape” and manage the emotional state in situations where one feels vulnerable.
This training was presented at the IFOTES congress in Goteborg in July 2013. It is available to TES trainers for the permanent training of listeners.
Best practice in qualifying listening skills
Collection of the best training practices of some European helplines on listening in crisis. The exercises presented can be useful in training-courses for communication and listening skills and crisis intervention. The collection is the outcome of project “QuaLiS” funded by the European program GRUNDVIG for life-long-learning, realized in 2013-2015.