Stanford University Researchers Discover Text Message Crisis Hotlines Better


Crisis help lines for students, faculty, and staff at a university have a long history, but there has not yet been a proper investigation and research on how the counseling services have affected those seeking help.

Recently, there is text-based crisis help line that seems to be changing the way students can seek help for their emotional and psychological problems.

Using mobile phones, students can now pour out their problems via text messages.

This makes for some anonymous guidance counseling, but it also caters to people who prefer texting to calling, which helps the hotline cast a wider net to students who need help, but are uncomfortable with face-to-face or calling.

Another thing that this text-based counseling can help school authorities with is the ability to gather data from the text messages. Researchers can easily gather information about the problems, attitude, or personality of the texter.

Jure Lescovek, an associate professor of computer science at Stanford University, said that former counseling sessions yielded only voice transcripts. This time, dozens of study and research can be done easily because of the nature of the text-based guidance counseling sessions.

Lescovek, along with Tim Althoff and Kevin Clark (Stanford graduate students), has analyzed over 600,000 text messages from over 15,000 sessions. This large-scale analysis of texts led the researchers to publish a study at the Transactions of the Association for Computational Linguistics.

In their paper, the researchers stated that the text messages can pave the way for better and more effective counseling conversations, enabling them to

measure how various linguistic aspects of conversations are correlated with conversation outcomes

The data can help guidance counselors or therapists into steering their text conversation by getting to the core of the issue, helping the student remain positive, and personalizing the dialogues.

The researchers made a new system of language analysis to identify which statements made by the counselors produced better results or made the student feel improved or optimistic at the end of the session.

They also compared the language used by those counselors who produced good results (their texters felt better), and by those whose texters whose sad or anxious disposition didn’t get any better.

According to the Study, Crisis Conversations Followed 5 Stages.

Crisis Conversations 5 Stages

  • Introduction
  • Problem setting
  • Problem exploration
  • Problem solving
  • Wrap-up

These were the stages every counselor used, regardless of whether the topic was suicide or romance.

The counselors who had more positive results were able to get to the main problem by asking questions, clarifying ideas, and then thanking the texter for using the hotline in asking for help.

Althoff, one of the researchers said that their study revealed that the more successful counselors talked more. They asked a lot more questions, got to the root of the problem quicker, and were able to spend a lot more time helping the texter find a solution, or at least come away with a better, more optimistic mindset.

If I talk positively, you’ll be more likely to talk positively, Althoff said

Counselors can change the words they use, which can greatly affect the results of the conversation.

Suicide, Stress, Crisis Contact Numbers:

National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

Stress/Crisis Hotline: 650-368-6655

Students or faculty can find more resources here.

Rob Clark admin staff managing editor

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