PolishEnglish (UK)

E-mailcounselling on alcohol, drugs, pills and gambling

Virtual assistance can bring real results! 

It turns out that e-mail may be the best way to ask for help and receive it. Experience of De DrugLijn speaks for itself. Originally it started as a telephone line, then it transformed into a multichannel contact centre that embraces the potential of online tools for low-threshold communication. One in two inquires at the helpline is made via the e-mail webform. In 2012 the DrugLijn will have helped more than 3000 people via e-mail! 

Laureate of the 2nd edition of the    

The helpline’s website has grown to become the pivotal point of all contacts. It provides not only static information, but also a range of interactive online knowledge and self-assessment tests as well as online self-help.  The main focus remains on confidential one-on-one contact in order to help people out with their questions, worries and concerns on substance use. Involved volunteers  dedicate 3 hours per week to provide a personal, warm and tailored answer to each e-mail the helpline receives. De DrugLijn works in strict anonymity, both for the people contacting the line as for the counselors.

Project website: http://www.druglijn.be/contact/stel-je-vraag-via-e-mail.aspx  



Who are the e-volunteers taking part in the project? How did you start the cooperation with them? 

The volunteers are a group with very diverse backgrounds; both in age, gender, etcetera. Some are students, others have a paid job and some are retired, are unemployed or have an allowance. Their main motivations are to learn (self-development), to have social contacts and of course to help others (altruism). De DrugLijn does not diferentiate on the basis on the volunteers’ background, religion or convinction. The main requirement is that the have a genuine attitude to help other, to have empathic capacities and are open-minded enough to remain non-judmental in their work with people who contact the helpline.


How many e-volunteers are involved in the project? How many e-volunteers are currently engaged in the project? How many of them have been involved in the project from its start?) 

At the moment, there are about 10 volunteers participating in this project (some new volunteers are finishing a training). De DrugLijn asks of the volunteers to commit themselves for at minimum one year. However, in practice, most volunteers have been active for several years. Two of them have been involved in the e-mailservice since it was launched in 2004.


How do you verify the e-volunteers’ competences before you start the cooperation with them? 

Each new volunteer is screened during an interview and has to take part in an training program for starters. This involves 10 training sessions on various alcohol and drug related issues as well as a practice training of 40 hours in total. All of this means that it takes about 3 months to prepare new volunteers for the counseling work. In the training specific attention is put to online communication skills. Aspect like online writing skills, a sense for detail when reading and analyzing an email inquiry and of course empathic capacities are essential and receive a lot of attention throughout the training. For each volunteer a staff member is appointed as mentor. This person is a personal coach and has regular follow-up and evaluation talks with the volunteer.


How do you ensure the safety and the quality of the e-volunteers’ work? 

De DrugLijn ensures the quality of work via several ways. First of all there is not only the thorough training of volunteers and follow-up by and experienced mentor; the helpline provides in 8 additional training and intervision session per year at which challenging topics or difficult cases are discussed. Secondly, the protocol used for answering emails involves a phase in which each answer is read and edited by a fellow before it is sent out. This systems is a wonderful way of keeping the quality standards high. The volunteers are very keen on getting individual feedback on what has been edited in their answer as it helps them develop their answering skills continuously.

 When it comes to safety, each volunteer know that he or she can fall back wWe ensure the quality by reading every answer the volunteers write before it is sent out. Every 6 weeks we organize a training session where the volunteers are educated concerning addiction.