The Compassionate Listener: Resources and Barriers for the Mental Health of Crisis Line Volunteers

Renate C.W.J. Willems

Research output: ThesisPhD Thesis - Research UT, graduation UT

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Crisis line volunteers offer a listening ear 24/7 and have shown to be effective in decreasing feelings of hopelessness and psychological pain, and in preventing suicide for anyone who cannot or does not want to make use of formal care. Although working at crisis line service is rewarding, a number of studies have shown that volunteers can experience distress and compassion fatigue. This thesis examined the mental health of these volunteers and the factors that influence this, with a focus on the role of self-compassion.
This dissertation shows that most volunteers at the crisis line service experience high levels of wellbeing and are engaged in their volunteer work. About one in five volunteers experience mild or moderate levels of distress. Important challenges experienced by crisis line volunteers are work-related (e.g., complex issues and difficult caller behaviour) and organization-related (e.g. the policy of non-intervention and anonymity). Important resources for wellbeing are the presence of a good selection policy, social networks and adequate training, supervision and intervision facilities. This dissertation is the first to examine self-compassion as a personal resource in the context of job resources and job demands. The findings suggest that self-compassion is an important resource for experiencing wellbeing and engagement and reducing distress. Especially the ability to recognize suffering, feeling one’s own suffering, tolerating uncomfortable feelings, and the ability to act to relieve suffering were found to be important facets of compassion in relation to mental health. Importantly, self-compassion was shown to be related to compassion to others which can be seen as a vital outcome of a crisis line organization. It is likely that training, supervision and intervision contribute to fostering a caring and warm job climate as well as self-compassion of the volunteers. However, we also found that some important challenges remained: the complex topics of the calls and the behaviour of callers. Some volunteers may find it especially difficult to cope with these challenges resulting in moderate levels of distress. Further longitudinal research into the role of self-compassion as a personal resource is warranted to explore the causal relationships between job demands, job resources, self-compassion and mental health, compassion to others and job satisfaction.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • University of Twente
  • Bohlmeijer, Ernst T., Supervisor
  • Drossaert, Stans C.H.C., Co-Supervisor
  • Miedema, H.S., Co-Supervisor, External person
Thesis sponsors
Award date21 Apr 2022
Place of PublicationEnschede
Print ISBNs978-90-365-5355-1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2022


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