Writing Cures: An Introductory Handbook of Writing in Counselling and Psychotherapy

By Gillie Bolton; Stephanie Howlett et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 15

Messages to Jo-the Samaritans' experience of email befriending

Stephanie Howlett and Robert Langdon


Introduction

Can anyone tell me some painless ways that I could commit suicide?

I've been thinking, but…even though I open my arms regularly with razor blades I hate pain. Thank God I can't feel it. I've really tried too.

E-mail me please!!! 1

A message like this is stark and shocking, but is not atypical of the 64,000 email contacts received by the Samaritans in 2001 (Samaritans 2002). With a rapidly expanding email befriending service that has been up and running since 1994, the Samaritans have perhaps the greatest body of experience and expertise in offering therapeutic email work of any organisation in the UK. While they are clear that what they offer, as in their longer-established telephone and face-to-face work, is befriending and not therapy, it is certainly therapeutic, and they have a solid body of experience that can prove very valuable for others entering the field of online therapy.


Background

The original initiative to establish an email service came from a Samaritans volunteer working in their Cheltenham branch. He was struck by the use that people were already making of chat rooms and websites to express some of their deepest emotions, feelings of despair, of not coping, and thoughts about suicide. Via the internet they were able to express these feelings and get a response of some kind, and clearly this was meeting a real need. He encouraged the Samaritans to consider using email as an additional medium through which people could access support, and a pilot scheme was set up in July 1994.

1 The Samaritans never disclose details about individuals who call them. Quotes are used strictly with permission and they do not use the contents of any calls to the Samaritans. The examples of emails used in this chapter are fictional exchanges typical of those received in reality.

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