Configuring the caller in ambiguous encounters: Volunteer handling of calls to Samaritans emotional support services
Issue: Vol 9 No. 2 (2012)
Journal: Communication & Medicine
This paper discusses volunteer strategies for handling
and assessing calls to Samaritans emotional support services for the suicidal and despairing. It presents findings from the qualitative components of a two year mixed methods study based on an online caller survey, branch observations and interviews with volunteers and callers throughout the UK. A thematic analysis of the qualitative data analysis was undertaken using the principle of constant comparison. Many calls fell beyond the primary remit of a crisis service, and called for rapid attribution and assessment. Uncertainty about identifying ‘good’ calls and recognizing those which were not caused difficulty, frustration and negative attribution towards some callers. This paper presents our analysis of volunteers’ accounts of how they configure the caller in intrinsically uncertain and ambiguous encounters, and how such strategies relate to the formal principles of unconditional support and non-judgemental active listening espoused by the organization.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
Author: Kristian Pollock, John Moore, Catherine Coveney, Sarah Armstrong
Appleby, L., Shaw, J., Amos, T., McDonnell, R., Harris, C., McCann, K., Kiernan, K., Davies, S., Bickley, H. and Parsons, R. (1999) Suicide within 12 months of contact with mental health services: National clinical survey. British Medical Journal 318: 1235–1239. http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.318.7193.1235
Armson, S. (1997) The perspective of a volunteer-based suicide-prevention organization. Crisis 18 (3): 131. http://dx.doi.org/10.1027/0227-5910.18.3.131
Barber, J. G., Blackman, E. K., Talbot, C. and Saebel, J. (2004) The themes expressed in suicide calls to a telephone help line. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology 39 (2): 121–125. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00127-004-0718-8
Bar-Lev, S. (2008) ‘We are here to give you emotional support’: Performing emotions in an Online HIV/AIDS Support Group. Qualitative Health Research 18 (4): 509–521. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1049732307311680
Bar-Lev, S. (2010) ‘Do you feel sorry for him?’ Gift relations in an HIV/AIDS online support forum. Health 14 (2): 147–161.
Cooper, J. and Kapur, N. (2004) Assessing suicide risk. In D. Duffy and T. Ryan (eds) New Approaches to Preventing Suicide: A Manual for Practitioners, 20–37. London: Jessica Kingsley.
Coveney, C., Pollock, K., Armstrong, S. and Moore, J. (2012) Callers’ experiences of calling a national suicide prevention helpline: report of an online survey. Crisis 33 (6): 313–324. http://dx.doi.org/10.1027/0227-5910/a000151
de Anda, D. and Smith, M. A. (1993) Differences among adolescent, young adult, and adult callers of suicide help lines. Social Work 38(4): 421–428.
Fairbairn, G. J. (1995) Contemplating Suicide: The Language and Ethics of Self Harm. London: Routledge. http://dx.doi.org/10.4324/9780203426371
Fairbairn, G. J. (1998) Suicide, language and clinical practice. Philosophy, Psychiatry and Psychology 5 (2): 157–169.
Fakhoury, W. K. H. (2007) Suicidal callers to a national helpline in the UK: A comparison of depressive and psychotic sufferers. Archives of Suicide Research 6 (4): 363–371. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13811110214532
Freedenthal, S. (2007) Challenges in assessing intent to die: Can suicide attempters be trusted? Omega: Journal of Death and Dying 55 (1): 57–70. http://dx.doi.org/10.2190/5867-6510-3388-3517
Freedenthal, S. (2008) Assessing the wish to die: A 30-year review of the suicide intent scale. Archives of Suicide Research 12 (4): 277–298. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13811110802324698
Gartner, A. and Reissman, F. (1977) Self-Help in the Human Services: San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Goffman, E. (1968) Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity. Harmondsworth: Pelican Books.
Hall, B. and Schlosar, H. (1995) Repeat callers and the Samaritan telephone crisis line: A Canadian experience. Crisis: The Journal of Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention 16 (2): 66–71. http://dx.doi.org/10.1027/0227-5910.16.2.66
Holding, T. A. (1974) The BBC ‘Befrienders’ series and its effects. British Journal of Psychiatry 124: 470–472. http://dx.doi.org/10.1192/bjp.124.5.470
Horne, J. and Wiggins, S. (2009) Doing being ‘on the edge’: managing the dilemma of being authentically suicidal in an online forum. Sociology of Health and Illness 31 (2): 170–184. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9566.2008.01130.x
Ingram, S., Ringle, J. L., Hallstrom, K., Schill, D. E., Gohr, V. M. and Thompson, R. W. (2008) Coping with crisis across the lifespan: the role of a telephone helpline. Journal of Child and Family Study 17 (5): 663–674. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10826-007-9180-z
Kalafat, J., Gould, M. S.,Harris, J. and Kleinman, M. (2007) An evaluation of crisis hotline outcomes Part 1: Non-suicidal crisis callers. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior 37 (3): 322–337. http://dx.doi.org/10.1521/suli.2007.37.3.322
King, R., Nurcombe, B., Bickman, L., Hides, L. and Reid, W. (2003) Telephone counselling for adolescent suicide prevention: Changes in suicidality and mental state from beginning to end of a counselling session. Suicide &Life-Threatening Behavior 33 (4): 400–411. http://dx.doi.org/10.1521/suli.33.4.400.25235
Lakeman, R. and FitzGerald, M. (2008) How people live with or get over being suicidal: a review of qualitative studies. Journal of Advanced Nursing 64 (2): 114–126. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2648.2008.04773.x
Liang, J., Krause, N. M. and Bennett, J. M. (2001) Social exchange and well-being: Is giving better than receiving? Psychology and Aging 16 (3): 511–523. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0882-79188.8.131.521
Mishara, B. (1997) Effects of different telephone intervention styles with suicidal callers at two suicide prevention centres: An empirical investigation. American Journal of Community Psychology 25 (6): 861–885. http://dx.doi.org/10.1023/A:1022269314076
Mishara, B., Chagnon, F., Daigle, M., Balan, B., Raymond, S., Marcoux, I., Bardon, C., Campbell, J. K. and Berman, A. (2007) Which helper behaviours and intervention styles are related to better short-term outcomes in telephone crisis intervention? Results from a silent monitoring study of calls to the US 1-800-SUICIDE network. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior 37(3): 308–321. http://dx.doi.org/10.1521/suli.2007.37.3.308
Nelson, S. and Armson, S. (2004) Samaritans, working with everyone, everywhere. In D. Duffy and Ryan, T. (eds) New Approaches to Preventing Suicide: A Manual for Practitioners, 291–304. London: Jessica Kingsley.
Norris, M. (1979) Paradoxical Samaritans: Techniques in a suicide prevention agency. Social Science and Medicine 13A: 487–490.
Pollock, K., Armstrong, S., Coveney, K. and Moore, J. (2010) An Evaluation of Samaritans Telephone and Email Emotional Support Service. University of Nottingham. http://www.samaritans.org/sites/default/files/kcfinder/files/research/Samaritans_service_evaluation_Nottingham_Full_Report.pdf
Samaritans (2004) Hearing the Caller’s Voice. Ewell: Samaritans.
Samaritans (2009) Taking the Lead to Reduce Suicide, Samaritans Strategy 2009–2015. Ewell: Samaritans.
Samaritans (2012) Information Resource Pack. Ewell: Samaritans.
Smithson, J., Sharkey, S.,Hewis, E.,Jones, R, B., Emmens, T., Ford, T. and Owens, C. (2011) Membership and boundary maintenance on an online self-harm forum. Qualitative Health Research 21 (11): 1567–1575. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1049732311413784
Strong, P. (1979) The Ceremonial Order of the Clinic: Patients, doctors and medical bureaucracies. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Varah, C. (1988) The Samaritans: Befriending the Suicidal. London: Constable
Vogel, D. L. and Wester, S. R. (2003) To seek help or not to seek help: The risks of self-disclosure. Journal of Counseling Psychology 50 (3): 351–361. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0022-0184.108.40.2061
Watson, R. J., McDonald, J. and Pearce, D. (2006) An exploration of national calls to Lifeline Australia: Social support or urgent suicide intervention? British Journal of Guidance and Counselling 34 (4): 471–482. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03069880600942582