LifeLine Pietermaritzburg online counselling was established in 2001 in response to people who were unable to call the crisis line and found it difficult to attend face to face counselling. The LifeLine service, with just 55 counsellors, responds to over 100 counselling cases per month.
"Counselling is traditionally held on a face to face basis, but with the versatility of the Internet we find that many help centres are opening up to online counselling," says Howard Arrand, chairperson of the FNB Fund, who has been supporting the service since 2008. "Lifeline Pietermaritzburg has created a vehicle through which anyone with access to the Internet can get help no matter where they are in the country. It is a safe, effective way to receive support and guidance on their problems, especially if they struggle to express themselves in the spoken word due to physical handicaps, shyness or practical or financial limitations."
Training of counsellors
Counselling can be facilitated via e-mail as well as the core talk system where clients can submit their circumstances and a trained LifeLine counsellor responds. While the core talk system mainly gives relevant and necessary information, more and more users are opting for e-mail counselling as it saves time, money and information is treated with confidentiality.
Many of the counsellors are community members who have shown interest in helping others. Each counsellor goes through selection criteria and undergoes a 20 week long training programme which covers personal growth, basic counselling skills, LifeLine counselling model, information which covers HIV/AIDS, gender-based violence, depression and suicide. They also go through an assessment process which includes mock calls and role plays.
The counsellors are assisted and mentored by a qualified counselling psychologist and experienced counsellors throughout the process. They also receive debriefings from their core group leaders to deal with emotional issues they might have picked up during their sessions.