Crisis Response is Not Counselling

Posted November 4th, 2020

By Stacy Ashton, Executive Director

At some point in our 51+ year history, there were questions raised about what to call the volunteers who answered our phones. “Crisis Counsellor” was one of the options proposed. 

I thought that was a good idea when I was volunteering on the lines—mostly because I was applying to a Masters of Counselling program and figured the title “Crisis Counsellor” could only help my chances of admission.

Now, however, I’ve played both roles: the person answering the crisis line, and the counsellor working with clients who are experiencing suicidal thoughts or recovering from a suicide attempt. Now I understand what counselling is, and it’s not the same as crisis response. 

Here’s the basic rule of thumb: if you schedule it, it’s counselling. A crisis, on the other hand, can’t be scheduled; when you reach out in a crisis, counselling isn’t exactly what you need. 

When we are in a crisis state, our minds and bodies go into a reaction mode. You’ve likely heard this a million times—I first learned about it in grade school with a cartoon they showed in class. Fight, flight, or freeze—each option requires a lot of energy as your body gets ready to stop thinking and start reacting.

Acting without thinking can get us into a lot of trouble. When you find yourself overwhelmed by intense emotion— which can sometimes feel like intense numbness—talking to someone who will just listen is how you turn your reaction back into thought. 

Counselling is really helpful in sorting out what to do next in your life. If you are facing a choice, if past events in your life are still painful, if something has happened that changes everything, if you are stuck and beating yourself up over it, or if you feel stuck and angry at other people or the world, counselling can help you think the situation through and find a resolution. 

Crisis response is about getting you back into your thinking mind. Counselling is most helpful when you are ready to think. 

If you call the Crisis Centre of BC–anytime, 24/7–you won’t be talking to a “Crisis Counsellor.” You’ll be talking to a skilled, valued, and aptly-named Crisis Service Responder.

  • Vancouver Coastal Regional Distress Line: 604-872-3311
  • Anywhere in BC 1-800-SUICIDE: 1-800-784-2433
  • Mental Health Support Line: 310-6789
  • Online Chat Service for Youth: (Noon to 1am)
  • Online Chat Service for Adults: (Noon to 1am)

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Our Impact The topic and word "suicide" is not so scary after taking a training from the Crisis Centre of BC. I'm grateful to have been here today, and am hopeful that I can help people in the future. safeTALK participant, Agassiz