TEEN LINE FOUNDATIONS – Birth of a teen hotline

Birth of a Teen Hotline

As we prepare for our 35th Anniversary, Dr. Leader will share her memories of the early days of TEEN LINE in a new series we like to call…

By Elaine Leader, Ph.D., CGP, BCD, FAGPA

Chapter One: In the Beginning

Elaine Leader LA Marathon 1982

People often ask me how TEEN LINE started. It actually was born through a lengthy process! If I go all the way back, it really began from my recognition of the value of telephone counseling. That came from when I was involved in the 1970s with the Warm Line – a program designed to assist the parents of infants and toddlers. Dealing on the phone with a parental crisis of a crying infant is not so far from handling a teen crying on the phone over a recent breakup!

But adding to the above was my increasing work with adolescents and, in particular, adolescent group psychotherapy. My clinical involvement at Cedars-Sinai’s Dept. of Child Psychiatry had led to starting an adolescent group and developing a Training Model for Clinical Work with Adolescents in Groups (the title of my Ph.D. dissertation), eventually leading to becoming the Coordinator of Adolescent Group Psychotherapy Training. This added the important component of how valuable, meaningful and needed a venue for teens to help their peers really was.

But the next most valuable ingredient was having the collaboration of other mental health professionals, who concurred and were willing to assist in starting a program that would lead to the establishment of a helpline for teens helping teens. It takes a village as they say! I was fortunate to have a great co-therapist for my adolescent group – Miguel Ramirez, LCSW and a wonderful consultant, Terry Lipton, MD. Out of our weekly discussions came the idea to test the waters by developing a Symposium on Adolescent Issues for those agencies in the Los Angeles community that offered a variety of services to assist teens as they navigate adolescent maturation and development.

This was all occurring as we approached 1980 – a time in which the Thalians Mental Health Center (Cedars’ Dept. of Psychiatry) included a Community Development Department headed by Henry Borenstein, LCSW and a Psychiatry Director, Saul Brown, MD, both of whom were accessible and encouraging. The Symposium was a huge success with over 65 attendees from 29 agencies. Attendees were asked to complete a questionnaire with a number of questions about community needs for specialized trainings but also questioning the need for a teen-to-teen hotline. The Symposium was followed by a number of smaller focus groups including one with several teenagers from Beverly Hills High School.

As the preparations for the Symposium were underway, I received a call from a psychologist named Joan Willens, Ph.D. who had heard of my group therapy work with teens. She told me her daughter was a student at Beverly High and thought there was a need for a telephone hotline just for teens and wondered if I was interested in pursuing this. But most significantly, she added that she could assist with funding since she headed a private foundation!

So, with a green light from our completed Symposium questionnaires and focus groups, and with Dr. Brown’s blessing, I tackled my first grant writing experience. After all, I was a clinician, not a Development Director! And it was successful, getting us a start-up grant of $49,000 from the Robert Ellis Simon Foundation. That led to Miguel, Hank, Terry and I putting our heads together to begin the process of a new program to be called TEEN LINE CARES. It was to encompass developing a teen hotline, but also a component for training in adolescent group therapy for community agencies.

Read the next chapter: Pt 2 – Training begins



  • For mental health professionals, as long as the y recognize the value of telephone counseling, then it is a lot easier to start. Then again, it is always a lengthy process. Thanks to all of people who contribute to the start of teen hotline. Great work.

  • My organization in Atlanta wants to develop a similar online teen resources site mainly for teen careers and resources. If possible I would welcome some pointers on getting started.

    My website is yesoxford.org

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