Who Sits Behind the Telephone? Interpersonal Characteristics of Volunteer Counselors in Telephone Emergency Services

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Abstract

Objective: Telephone emergency services (TES) play an important role in suicide prevention across different health care systems around the world. However, little is known about the telephone counselors who often volunteer to provide free and confidential help for people in emotional crises. The current study aims to examine the interpersonal values of volunteer counselor trainees and further investigates their personality traits, life satisfaction and expectations regarding their future counseling style. Method: For the current study, 261 counselor trainees were recruited within the German nationwide organization TelefonSeelsorge at the beginning of their paraprofessional training. Interpersonal values were described according to the interpersonal circumplex (IPC) model with the structural summary method. Results: Compared to a matched nonclinical reference group, trainee counselors reported significantly higher interpersonal values for the scales Harmony (LM) and Helpful Influence (NO). A cluster analysis revealed 3 distinct groups of trainees, which can be described as predominantly submissive-altruistic, helpful-influential, and friendly-harmonious. The 3 groups further differed in the Big Five personality traits Extraversion, Neuroticism and Agreeableness, as well as in self-reported mentalization, attachment anxiety, and avoidance, but not in life satisfaction. Furthermore, the groups differed with regard to their expected future counseling style. Conclusion: The results contribute to an understanding of interpersonal goals and motives of volunteer counselor trainees in TES.

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