Crisis Hotlines Now Offer Texting With Counselors

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Feb. 10 2014 4:11 PM

Crisis Hotlines Now Offer Texting With Counselors

texting
Texting can be a more comfortable medium than phonecalls for teens seeking help from a crisis counselor.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Most of the time texting is just for making plans or sharing a quick joke, but texts can also convey more serious information. And crisis hotlines are increasingly offering SMS text message services so teens or anyone can elect to text with a counselor instead of speaking on the phone. It makes sense because texting is more discreet and can't be overheard (an individual in distress might be seeking guidance about one or more of the people they live with or encounter often). Texting also seems normal in social settings, so someone who wants to reach out for help while with a group of friends or at school or work can text without revealing to anyone else that something is wrong.

The New York Times also points out that texting makes it easier for counselors to juggle multiple cases at once, bring in colleagues to consult about a particular issue, or restart a conversation that has stalled. In addition to hotlines, people can also contact the National Dating Abuse Helpline and National Human Trafficking Resource Center through texts.

Advertisement

The trend also extends to 911, which more and more people are able to reach by text around the country. On Jan. 30 the FCC made a recommendation that all U.S. mobile carriers support text-to-911 by the end of 2014. The four biggest U.S. mobile carriers already agreed last May to prioritize build out of this feature.

Texting provides mixed results according to counselors interviewed by the Times, but one benefit is that people can review the conversations they've had with counselors as many times as they wish. It also seems clear that the medium especially appeals to teens and young adults, who are the population many hotlines most serve anyway.

A major downside is the impersonal nature of texting, which can make it harder for counselors to forge trust. Text-only communication also makes it harder for counselors to assess a person's mental state. Someone who was seeking help might suddenly say that everything is fine and that they feel better even though they are crying or being threatened in some way. It does seem, though, that people especially turn to texting when they are in the midst of a crisis, or have just come out of one, giving them more incentive to connect out of a sense of urgency. Though it may not seem like a major shift, texting significantly broadens the possibilities for remote counseling.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Lily Hay Newman is lead blogger for Future Tense.

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola

Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.

It’s Not Easy for Me, but I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights

Divestment Is Fine but Mostly Symbolic. There’s a Better Way for Universities to Fight Climate Change.

Subprime Loans Are Back

And believe it or not, that’s a good thing.

It Is Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

Why Are Lighter-Skinned Latinos and Asians More Likely to Vote Republican?

How Ted Cruz and Scott Brown Misunderstand What It Means to Be an American Citizen

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 22 2014 6:30 PM What Does It Mean to Be an American? Ted Cruz and Scott Brown think it’s about ideology. It’s really about culture.
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 23 2014 10:03 AM Watch Steve Jobs Tell Michael Dell, "We're Coming After You"
  Life
The Vault
Sept. 23 2014 10:24 AM How Bad Are Your Drinking Habits? An 18th-Century Temperance Thermometer Has the Verdict
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 7:43 PM Emma Watson Threatened With Nude Photo Leak for Speaking Out About Women's Equality
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 1:52 PM Tell Us What You Think About Slate Plus Help us improve our new membership program.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 9:42 AM Listen to the Surprising New Single From Kendrick Lamar
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 23 2014 10:51 AM Is Apple Picking a Fight With the U.S. Government? Not exactly.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 23 2014 7:00 AM I Stand With Emma Watson
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.