By: Leslie Fischman
Chapter 3 (Data Analysis):
Emotion Management: Becoming A Hotline Counselor & Trauma Therapist
Emotion Management: Learning the Language and the Scripts
The basics of learning how to manage ones emotions while on the hotline, begins during counselor training. Newcomers are taught to be cautious of developing particular attachments and given advice on how to control their emotions, by modeling the techniques used by the more experienced members. During training, counselors “learn how to feel” (Arluke 2004:346) by using emotion management strategies, which help them to distance themselves emotionally by “adopting a different set of assumptions” about survivors of sexual assault, “that may be inconsistent with (their) prior views” (Arluke 2004:346).
Listening not Fixing!
Normalizing the Caller’s/Client’s Feelings
In order to gain a better understanding of “how others assess (their) emotional display” (Hochschild 2003:57), experienced counselors provide the newcomers with constant feedback and “rule reminders” (57) to tell them how to act and how to feel. For example, supergroup leader Mike, at one of the Supergroup meetings, reminded the counselors that. . .
“What we do best is listening. Our job is not to try and problem solve, but to help the caller figure out what’s frustrating them, by helping them to identify their own feelings. There are two parts to every call, one part is the emotion building, empathy, bonding part, and only 10% of the call should involve problem solving and fixing. In the first five minutes of the call, regardless of what they’re calling about . . . It’s bonding time.”
Shainberg illustrates the key transformation that therapist’s undergo when working with clients in this way. She claims that when counselors learn to let go of their thoughts, and stop trying to fix, they become better listeners. By making a conscious effort to be aware of one’s thoughts and judgements, counselor’s and therapist can better prepare themselves to be active listeners in identifying the caller’s feelings and not what feelings within themselves the caller is triggering (Shainberg 1983:175) Part of the role of the hotline counselor is to help others make sense of their experiences, by allowing them to explore their own feelings in a way which will lead them to a better understanding of themselves. In this way counselors can best help others by letting the client make sense of their experiences themselves without telling them how or what they should feel.
Trungpa 1983 argues that the basic role of the therapist “is to become full human beings and to inspire full human-beingness in other people” (in Awakening the Heart). Similarly counselors are best able to help others when they fully understand the importance of being open and come to understand the meaningfulness of the work they do for survivors of sexual assault. When counselor’s and therapist are unsuccessful at being true to themselves than “when working with others is a question of being genuine and projecting that genuiness to others” (Trungpa1983). Trungpa argues that the role of the therapist is “not try to figure out people based on their past” but rather for them to
develop a sense of “fearlessness” in the face of the unknown which is “necessary to work patiently with others” (Trungpa 1983). Normalizing the feelings of others requires the therapist in part to create and open space, let go of their fears of failure and the embarrassment they may feel by saying the wrong thing. Trungpa 1983 explains that in order “to cultivate basic healthiness in others” requires the helper “to cute [their] own impatience and learn” to be more accepting of others no matter whether we may understand. Trunpga alludes to the idea that whether or not therapist’s can personally identify with the experiences of client should not be a measure of how capable the therapist feels in helping that individual, being there and listening is just as effective. Trugpa specifically speaks to psychotherapist and their role as the helper to commit to their patients fully, in the sense that they pay attention and actively listen to their lives more so than any “ordinary medical work” position would require them to. She describes the relationship between the therapist and the client as more of a “long term commitment” that strengthens over time, with patience and the development of a certain trust that enables the client to freely express themselves and share their feelings.
To a large extent, becoming a hotline counselor requires individuals to conform to a set of group norms and adopt the collective values of the whole in order to achieve “complete membership” (Adler & Adler) to the team.
How they learn to Build an Emotional Bond With The Client The Importance of Self-Care
One victim advocates and professionals I interviewed, who for the purposes of maintaining anonyminity of my subjects will be referred to as Carol, expressed the importance of practicing self-care in individual therapy, she described it as “finding out how to hold that space of compassion; helping them find their journey . . . not telling them.” She described this process as analogous to “being a witness . . . like a midwife.” She explained that “if [she] notices [she’s] encroaching on this space, she would say something like, “I think you could better be served if you check out” and then give the client a referral, like another therapists or counselor better suited to accommodate the client’s needs. But Carol has one rule of thumb when making a referral, she never refers a patient to someone she doesn’t know personally.
Rewards and Benefits to Becoming a Hotline Counselor
The role of a rape crisis hotline counselor is multidimensional, and it is through their experiences and practice with the emotion management techniques that they learn how to better assess their feelings as well as the feelings of the caller. Volunteers who find their experiences most rewarding are those who can best adapt to the strategies they learn in training. However when counselors are no longer able to mange their emotions, their level commitment to their role decreases, thus affecting the quality of care provided to their clients.
What are the factors that contribute to lessening one’s level of commitment?
Deep Acting vs. Surface Acting
The role of the therapist and hotline counselor requires more than just playing their part, it requires “deep acting” on their part (Hochschild 1983). Unlike “surface acting” which is simply pretending to feel like an actor or actress would, “deep acting” results in an emotional separation from ourselves and our feelings, when feelings happen to us whether or not we tried to elicit that response in the first place.
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Leslie A. Fischman