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Crisis Hotlines Offer Help Through Texting

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) — Suicide and abuse hotlines have been helping people in distress for decades. Now they are also counseling people through text messages.

Studies show it’s easier for people to tell the truth through texting than when face to face or on the phone. As a result, counseling centers across the country are offering “text for help hotlines.”

One young woman texted her friends when she needed help to end an abusive relationship, said she would have used such a service.

“I felt very trapped,” she said of her relationship. “I couldn’t tell my family what was going on.

“You can probably say things that you wouldn’t in person through a text message,” said the woman.

She said she would have used a text for help hotline.

“Being able to text someone who I don’t know and just give them the overall, you know, situation, like ‘Hey, is this normal, is this acceptable?’” said the woman.

The goal of texting with those seeking help, counseling centers say, is to provide a non-discriminatory voice of support at all hours of the day for just about every issue, from peer pressure and depression to relationship problems and bullying.

The National Dating Abuse Helpline said it receives more than 850 texts a month.

“It was amazing to me to hear young people say this is the most private way for them to communicate,” said Katie Ray-Jones, the helpline’s president.

However, hotline staff members admit texting with a person in need can be challenging.

“There’s always going to be that missing nuance when you’re not hearing the tone of someone’s voice,” said Nicole Seligman of the National Dating Abuse Helpline.

Critics also warn the written word may not be enough to counsel someone in distress, especially in a short text.

“We can get so easily swept away in new technologies. We forget that there are some factors in there that can really harm our ability to do our job as well as we can,” said Dr. Ramani Durvasula, a licensed clinical psychologist.

But Ray-Jones said that isn’t the case with her hotline’s texting staff, who have been trained for every scenario, including emergencies.

“If someone sends us a text message and they are in the throes of a violent situation, we’re going to advise them to call 911,” said Ray-Jones. “If 911 is not an option for them, we are going to talk about, ‘Can you get to a safe place?’”

Counselors say they also often text links to websites with additional help and information to the people who reach out to them.

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