Chapter Two: Our first training group
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…
My first task after receiving the start-up grant from the Robert Ellis Simon Foundation was to find a suitable Trainer and recruit appropriate teens to be trained. I was fortunate to find a wonderful psychologist, Dr. Patricia Wisne, who was experienced with peer counseling. Dr. Wisne became our Teen Training Coordinator for the next ten years! In addition I recruited a great clinical social worker to conduct a one year needs assessment in the community in order to determine which agencies were open to consultation and training on adolescent issues, particularly group experience.
Having held a focus group for teen input we already had a core group of high school students who were raring to be trained to answer calls on the hotline we were about to establish. We actually ended up with a group of 28 adolescents who began training in September, 1980. Prominent amongst these were students from Beverly Hills High. However, the most important first step was developing the actual training process with suitable subject matter so that our teen volunteers would be knowledgeable in answering the anticipated calls. Most crucial to the training was teaching our teen volunteers not to give advice but to become skilled in “active listening”. In other words, to answer calls non-judgmentally, with compassion and empathy.
Along with teaching the teen volunteers listening skills we formulated the most relevant issues usually discussed in adolescent therapy sessions as well as everyday concerns. We had already decided not to be labeled a crisis line but a place where no problem was too small or too big for our teen volunteers to handle. We were greatly helped by input from Dr. Terry Lipton who became TEEN LINE’s first Board President after the time-consuming process of becoming a registered non-profit with both federal and state governments. But I am jumping ahead into the practicalities and legalities involved which probably requires a whole chapter on its own. We were greatly helped by the topics our teen volunteers agreed were paramount with their peers and needed to be included in the training process.
Foremost among the topics to be taught, of course, were relationship problems whether they were with parents, peers and school personnel along with the serious issues involved with teen depression, suicidality and self-harm. This was closely followed by eating disorders and sexuality concerns. After much discussion we all agreed that the Line would be confidential and all callers given the option of speaking anonymously. Nonetheless we did realize it was important to gather some statistics in order to prove the value of our efforts and to recruit further funding. Another important issue was to make sure once the teens were ready to take calls that they were properly supervised and given support and any debriefing they might require. To meet this need and to fine tune the whole process, myself and the other Founders – Miguel Ramirez, Terry Lipton and Hank Borenstein each took one night a week supervising a shift. When we first started TEEN LINE CARES, which was the Line’s original name, we were open Thursday – Sunday evening. My shift, of course, was Saturday nights! More about that later.
Read the next chapter: Pt 3 – Early Challenges