By Chelsea Carter with Akhila Blaise, Distress Services, Training & Quality Assurance
Volunteers are the foundation of the Crisis Centre. Since its inception, the Crisis Centre phones have depended on volunteers to answer the majority of call-takers. To become a call-taker they must first complete 110-hours of training, which includes monitored call taking. In March 2020, for the first time in its 50-year history, the Centre was forced to pause these trainings.
Previously the entire training would be completed through in-person sessions, but this was no longer possible. Within weeks Akhila Blaise, Director of Distress Services, Training & Quality Assurance, and the Crisis Centre team had transformed the training to be delivered primarily through virtual sessions, aligned with a new virtual volunteer intake process. The only portion that would not be delivered virtually would be when trainees came in to complete their monitored calls and chats.
Akhila admits that prior to COVID-19 she was skeptical of the idea of virtually training crisis line volunteers because the training is very emotive and experiential. However, by being forced into its sudden adoption and seeing it in action, she has seen that works well. While virtual training lacks the organic cues of in-person training, such as eye contact and body language, trainees have begun verbalizing emotions more in response.
Virtual training may just be one of the many new components that create the new normal at the Crisis Centre. Spurred by a response to COVID-19, it has proven an effective method of facilitating training during the pandemic and could continue to be used afterward as it would allow the Centre to increase its training capacity beyond the limits of its infrastructure.