Ok, so you're considering calling an advice line. Here are some things you (probably) need to know before deciding where to go, who to call, and what to say.
Not all advice lines are the same, of course, and not all are a payed service. Some are staffed by caring volunteers who want to make a difference. Others, by payed experts who attend during set hours to help you out. The pro's and con's of using an advice line to get a handle on your problems differ a little per service.
- It's anonymous. You can give your name, but you can also give any other name. No one at the advice office looks at where you're calling from, and the consultant can't even tell. You can tell your deepest secrets, fears, dreams and insecurities, and you don't have to look anyone in the eye while you do it. You won't see them tomorrow in the supermarket, and they can't tell your mother or spouse behind your back. This gives you a lot of freedom to be as real and honest as you need.
- You can stay home. This is a big one. Not everyone is able to leave home, and not everybody likes to. Transportation is expensive, and it's fussy. For example, you have to get dressed. You have to pack your things. You lose time on traveling. With a phone line, you just find a comfortable spot wherever you happen to be, and start talking.
- No contract or commitment required. A lot of people really like being able to call whenever they feel like it, but without any of the obligation you find with most face-to-face services. No weekly therapist appointment, no having to rack up a certain number of consults, no expectations from your consultant on when you are going to call back - and nobody to check if you've done your homework.
- No waiting time. If you need to talk to someone now, because you feel bad now, you don't have to wait until tomorrow or next week to see a professional doctor or therapist who is working with an agenda.
- You decide the duration. When you call an advice line, the power is all yours. One click of a button, and the call is over, and there is nothing anybody can do about it. That means you can customise your experience, and either ask a short question and get on with your day, or take a full hour without having to worry that your consultant has someone else waiting in the next room.
- Very versatile consultants. Often, advice line consultants are able to talk to you about a huge number of different topics with a degree of experience. They get calls from all sorts of people, about all sorts of questions, and if you find a consultant with just a little experience, there are few areas of life they haven't dealt with before. You're unlikely to shock them, or push them out of their area of expertise.
- No prejudice. A phoneconsultant can't see you. They don't know if you belong to a minority, or are sporting a black eye that your boyfriend just gave you, and they don't know that thing you did with your ex that all your friends silently judge. They've no idea if you live in a ghetto or a palace, and so don't have any preconceptions about you other than what you choose to tell them. For people who live with a lot of prejudice on a daily basis, this can be a real relief.
- You don't know your consultant. They may not know you, but in return you also have no idea who you are talking to. All you get is a voice on a line, and while that may be just fine if you are trying to reinstall your computer or find out where the nearest AA meeting is - it can be a problem when you are trying to establish a connection, or sort out whether this is a person you feel comfortable working with. You pick up that phone, and based on a "Hello, this is [RL]", you get to just spill your beans. If it turns out you don't like them, you get to hang up and try again with someone else.
- There is little quality control. This depends strongly on the advice line you call, but keep in mind that regardless of what they may or may not say on their website or in their ad, you can't easily check the qualifications of the people you're talking to. And often - don't be shocked - the advice lines don't screen their consultants as carefully as they say they do. Or, in some cases, at all. You may think you are talking to a truly gifted medium who speaks to Arch Angel Gabriel because their profile page says so, but you are just as likely to talk to a clever housewife on the other side of town. You may end up talking to a really amazing advisor who can sort out your biggest problem in 5 minutes flat, or you may get a fraud. You just don't know.
- Your consultant may be available irregularly. Many consultants work on a freelance basis, and sign on ... basically whenever they feel like it. Your favourite may disappear on you for weeks and there's nothing you can do about it. There's also no guarantee that they're going to be there at that moment when your girlfriend just left and you're sobbing on the floor.
- It can be expensive. If you call a paid service, the price is often per minute and it can rack up quite quickly if you talk to someone who is skilled at keeping you on the line. Some (less ethical) consultants are very good at this. Before you get snappy at your consultant about the money, though, please remember that they are getting only a fraction of the money you pay.
- You get no followup. A consultant can tell you all sorts of extremely useful advice, but they aren't going to be there to follow up with you on it unless you call them back and specifically tell them what you did and didn't do. This gives you a lot more responsibility for your own process than a more face-to-face type of advice, and so a much greater chance you're going to just do whatever you usually do. Sometimes, it's motivating when you know someone's going to ask you later what you did and how you did it.
Part of the reason I wrote this article, was to better understand the people I find on the other end of that phoneline. Why are they turning to an advice line with their questions? What makes them choose a phone consultant over a regular advice professional? With the above list, it's getting a little clearer.
And the ups and downs for the consultant? That's a story for a later time.