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“National Runaway Switchboard, how can I help you?”

This phrase has been a constant in my life since I started my internship at the National Runaway Switchboard, a crisis hotline for youth and their families in May. I jumped into this internship not really sure what was going to happen, only sure that I needed counseling experience before I applied to graduate school for clinical psychology. And what better way to do that than answering crisis calls at a center?

The training (40 hours of preparing for answering calls, learning about runaway youth and the crisis intervention model), listen-ins, and supervisions flew by and suddenly I was sitting in the calling center, waiting for my phone to ring to help people out.  It’s not an easy thing to do, and I remember the first few calls I took I was shaking and constantly looked to my supervisors for help. I wouldn’t say it’s second nature now, either, because you really never know what to expect when you’re sitting in the center. Everyone’s story is different, and everyone needs something different from you, whether it is shelter resources, help finding a bus ticket home, conferencing their parents, or even just to talk. Our call center supervisors are amazing though, and are always so supportive and willing to help with anything. Answering these phone calls can be really tough to handle, but I’ve never felt like I was on my own. The call center in NRS is like a family, and all the volunteers and supervisors work together to make such a great atmosphere. The amount of calls we get can be anywhere from everyone is on the lines for their entire shift, or there is tons of down time and you just get to hang out with the other volunteers. It’s been great to talk to people who are so involved in counseling and social work, especially because most of the volunteers have been around for at least a year.

Aside from answering calls, my other jobs around the office are helping out the supervisors with their tasks (such as follow-up calls for a program that NRS has called Home Free), working in the Training and Education Department, and researching statistics for a report that NRS is compiling. Since the organization is a non-profit and pretty small, I have been doing a variety of things, like recording training videos, analyzing volunteer surveys, and even updating volunteer information.

This experience has been like nothing I’ve ever dealt with before. It is simultaneously one of the most rewarding and challenging things I have had to do. There are times in the call center, or right after leaving, when all you want to do is just lay down or burst into tears. One of the most important things I’ve had to learn is how to not only take care of the people you are trying to help, but to take care of yourself. Counseling sounds like it’s going to be hard for the people you counsel, so it’s easy to forget that you are also dealing with these issues. You learn pretty quickly to look for support, and to know when you have to let things go.  At the same time, after talking to youth and being able to find them a way home is one of the greatest feelings ever. This job is tough because you want to help as much as possible, but in the end, you can’t control what people do, you can only just be there for them.

This internship has helped me figure out what I want to do in the clinical field, and also showed me the different ways you can use a counseling or social work degree. And although this summer has been tough, it also has been one of the most fun experiences. I would definitely recommend working at a crisis hotline to see if you want to go into clinical work, and NRS is one of the best places for it. I would never trade this experience for anything.

About the NU Intern Blogger Program
This summer, over 50 Northwestern University students will be sharing stories about what they are experiencing at their internships from across the country and internationally. Each week new students will share an inside look at what it means to be an intern. Please contact Betsy Gill, Assistant Director, Internship Services if you have any questions.

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