Those who are worried and are looking for advice or understanding can turn starting this week to the Chat Service Utrecht. Every Tuesday and Thursday, trained volunteers are available from 8 to 11 in the evening to answer anonymous chat requests. They do this via the user-friendly chat application of Livecom.
The Utrecht Telephone Assistance, of which the chat service is a part, already has years of experience with Livecom. “When we split off in April from a national collaboration, we did not hesitate to resume using the Livecom application for chat”, says director Malou Saat. “Livecom is a simple, user-friendly application with a great interface. It helps out that, after just an hour of technical instruction, our volunteers can do what they came to do: helping people with problems.”
In 2012, the service, then within the collaboration with Sensoor Nederland, conducted more than 400 chat conversations. Many chatters can type their story more easily than discussing their concerns over the telephone, Malou thinks. “The extra anonymity of the computer sometimes gives people the courage to make contact. Typing that you have been raped or that you cut yourself, or that you are thinking about suicide is different than speaking those words aloud. And the value of the contact is just as high as during a telephone conversation.”
The chat logs help the Municipality of Utrecht, which subsidizes the service, to address negative and positive trends. “we spot an increase in the number of young teenagers who are physically abused, the municipality can respond to that. We do that ourselves as well: when we noticed that increasing numbers of girls found us to talk about their eating disorders, we engaged a professor to educate our volunteers about this subject.”
At the moment, the service – next to 80 ‘telephone volunteers’ – also has 10 ‘chat volunteers’. That will be increasing quickly: chat has recently been integrated into the basic training. Volunteers are prepared over 3 months for both telephone and chat services. Starting in December, the Chat Service hopes to be able to operate at full capacity.