Crisis helpline operator

A crisis helpline operator


Crisis helpline operators provide advice and support to distraught callers via the telephone. They have to deal with various issues, such as abuse, depression, and financial problems. Helpline operators maintain records of phone calls according to regulations and privacy policies.

Other titles

The following job titles also refer to crisis helpline operator:

distress helpline operator
telephone crisis support
telephone crisis counselor
distress hotline operator
crisis helpline worker
crisis hotline operator

Working conditions

Crisis helpline operators work mainly for non-profit hotlines but might also work in hospitals, social service agencies, or religious or faith-based organizations. They often work with a team of other counselors. They usually receive supervision as needed but might also participate in weekly group supervisory sessions.

Since crisis helpline services are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the hours in a crisis center job description can vary. Some crisis helpline operators work full-time during regular business hours, while others work part-time in the evenings or on weekends. They may also need to provide holiday or emergency coverage. The work can be emotionally challenging, requiring the ability to remain calm and empathetic while dealing with distressed and potentially suicidal callers.

Minimum qualifications

The exact educational requirements in a crisis helpline operator job description can vary. Some agencies will accept applicants with a high school diploma, especially for volunteer positions. Most paid positions require at least a bachelor’s degree in counseling or a related mental health field, like social work or psychology, but some prefer candidates with master’s degrees.

A few crisis counselors may have doctorates in their respective fields, but they generally tend to hold supervisory positions in the organization. Crisis helpline operators must complete on-the-job crisis intervention training and a supervised probationary period before they can work independently.

ISCO skill level

ISCO skill level is defined as a function of the complexity and range of tasks and duties to be performed in an occupation. It is measured on a scale from 1 to 4, with 1 the lowest level and 4 the highest, by considering:

  • the nature of the work performed in an occupation in relation to the characteristic tasks and duties
  • the level of formal education required for competent performance of the tasks and duties involved and
  • the amount of informal on-the-job training and/or previous experience in a related occupation required for competent performance of these tasks and duties.

Crisis helpline operator is a Skill level 3 occupation.

Crisis helpline operator career path

Similar occupations

These occupations, although different, require a lot of knowledge and skills similar to crisis helpline operator.

social work assistant
community health worker
residential home adult care worker
housing support worker
residential care home worker

Long term prospects

These occupations require some skills and knowledge of crisis helpline operator. They also require other skills and knowledge, but at a higher ISCO skill level, meaning these occupations are accessible from a position of crisis helpline operator with a significant experience and/or extensive training.

military welfare worker
enterprise development worker
social work supervisor
crisis situation social worker
social work researcher

Essential knowledge and skills

Essential knowledge

This knowledge should be acquired through learning to fulfill the role of crisis helpline operator.

  • Health care occupation-specific ethics: The moral standards and procedures, ethical questions and obligations specific to occupations in a healthcare setting, such as respect for human dignity, self-determination, informed consent, and patient confidentiality.
  • Crisis intervention: Coping strategies in crisis cases that allow individuals to overcome their problems or fears and avoid psychological distress and breakdown.
  • Company policies: The set of rules that govern the activity of a company.

Essential skills and competences

These skills are necessary for the role of crisis helpline operator.

  • Apply quality standards in social services: Apply quality standards in social services while upholding social work values and principles.
  • Protect vulnerable social service users: Intervene to provide physical, moral and psychological support to people in dangerous or difficult situations and to remove to a place of safety where appropriate.
  • Contribute to protecting individuals from harm: Use established processes and procedures to challenge and report dangerous, abusive, discriminatory or exploitative behaviour and practice, bringing any such behaviour to the attention of the employer or the appropriate authority.
  • Develop professional identity in social work: Strive to provide the appropriate services to social work clients while staying within a professional framework, understanding what the work means in relation to other professionals and taking into account the specific needs of your clients.
  • Maintain privacy of service users: Respect and maintain the dignity and privacy of the client, protecting his or her confidential information and clearly explaining policies about confidentiality to the client and other parties involved.
  • Act discreetly: Be discreet and don’t draw attention.
  • Assess social service users’ situation: Assess the social situation of service users situation balancing curiosity and respect in the dialogue, considering their families, organisations and communities and the associated risks and identifying the needs and resources, in order to meet physical, emotional and social needs.
  • Relate empathetically: Recognise, understand and share emotions and insights experienced by another.
  • Listen actively: Give attention to what other people say, patiently understand points being made, ask questions as appropriate, and not interrupt at inappropriate times; able to listen carefully to the needs of customers, clients, passengers, service users or others, and provide solutions accordingly.
  • Manage social crisis: Identify, respond to, and motivate individuals in social crisis situations in a timely manner, making use of all resources.
  • Adhere to organisational guidelines: Adhere to organisational or department-specific standards and guidelines. Understand the motives of the organisation and the common agreements and act accordingly.
  • Maintain records of work with service users: Maintain accurate, concise, up-to-date and timely records of the work with service users while complying with legislation and policies related to privacy and security.
  • Have computer literacy: Utilise computers, IT equipment and modern-day technology efficiently.
  • Tolerate stress: Maintain a temperate mental state and effective performance under pressure or adverse circumstances.
  • Apply organisational techniques: Employ a set of organisational techniques and procedures that facilitate achieving the goals set. Use these resources efficiently and sustainably, and show flexibility when required.
  • Communicate by telephone: Liaise via telephone by making and answering calls in a timely, professional and polite manner.
  • Consider social impact of actions on service users: Act according to the political, social and cultural contexts of social service users, considering the impact of certain actions on their social well being.
  • Provide social guidance over the phone: Give social support and advice to individuals by listening to their concerns and reacting accordingly.
  • Accept own accountability: Accept accountability for one`s own professional activities and recognise the limits of one`s own scope of practice and competencies.

Optional knowledge and skills

Optional knowledge

This knowledge is sometimes, but not always, required for the role of crisis helpline operator. However, mastering this knowledge allows you to have more opportunities for career development.

  • Counselling methods: Counselling techniques used in different settings and with various groups and individuals, especially concerning methods of supervision and mediation in the counselling process.
  • Communication: Exchanging and conveying information, ideas, concepts, thoughts, and feelings through the use of a shared system of words, signs, and semiotic rules via a medium.
  • Strategies for handling cases of elder abuse: The range of strategies and approaches utilised in identifying, terminating, and preventing instances of elder abuse. This includes understanding the methods and procedures used to recognise instances of elder abuse, the legal implications of abusive behaviour; and possible intervention and rehabilitation activities.

Optional skills and competences

These skills and competences are sometimes, but not always, required for the role of crisis helpline operator. However, mastering these skills and competences allows you to have more opportunities for career development.

  • Use computer telephony integration: Utilise technology that allows interaction between telephone and computer. Enable call services directly within a desktop environment.
  • Empower social service users: Enable individuals, families, groups and communities to gain more control over their lives and environment, either by themselves or with the help of others.
  • Apply crisis intervention: Respond methodologically to a disruption or breakdown in the normal or usual function of a person, family, group or community.
  • Analyse call performance trends: Analyse call quality and performance trends; provide recommendations for future improvement.
  • Help clients cope with grief: Provide support to clients having experienced the loss of close family or friends and help them to express their grief and recover.
  • Promote human rights: Promote and respect human rights and diversity in light of the physical, psychological, spiritual and social needs of autonomous individuals, taking into account their opinions, beliefs and values, and the international and national codes of ethics, as well as the ethical implications of healthcare provision, ensuring their right to privacy and honouring for the confidentiality of healthcare information.
  • Advocate for social service users: Speak for and on behalf of service users, using communicative skills and knowledge of relevant fields to assist those less advantaged.
  • Maintain records of phone calls: Keep track of the phone calls made. Record the caller’s personal data, the content of the call and other metadata in accordance with company policies and legal regulations.
  • Advise on mental health: Advise persons of all ages and groups in terms of the health-promoting aspects of individual behaviour and institutions about the personal, social and structural factors on physical and mental health.
  • Maintain telephony system: Prevent telephone faults. Report to the electricians to change the equipment and manage telephone installations and moves. Maintain voice-mail system, which includes adding and deleting mailboxes, managing security codes, and providing voicemail instruction for staff.
  • Refer social service users: Make referrals to other professionals and other organisations, based on the social service users’ requirements and needs.
  • Inform on the risks of substance and alcohol abuse: Provide information in the community about the risks and dangers of substance and alcohol abuse.

ISCO group and title

3412 – Social work associate professionals

  1. Crisis helpline operator – ESCO
  2. Job Description of Telephone Crisis Counselors – Chron
  3. Featured image: Photo by MART PRODUCTION from Pexels
Last updated on April 20, 2023

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