Charles Bentley – TELL Lifeline Support Worker
Trained in the Fall of 2001, retired in July 2020 Contributed 2,336 hours of phone support to users in need.
What brought you to TELL?
I was in Samaritans in HK for about a year and returned to Japan right before reunification and decided to join the TELL Lifeline. I finished the training around 9/11. So much concern going around at the time, in Japan and around the world, it sort of disrupted the training.
What did you learn about yourself through your time on the line?
I became a more concerned person and got better at listening to intonation and things like that because sometimes suicidal people speak more flatly and you have to listen very carefully to catch how distressed they are. It’s a cry for help when suicidal people call the line. They are looking for a reason to survive and they are hoping we will help them somehow through empathy and understanding their story.
How did it impact your life?
I always felt comfortable in the phone room. When I had a difficult call I had some time to wind down. That’s why I did not want to do anything at home. I felt you need that space to separate yourself, some calls do affect you deeply. Sometimes not right away but half an hour or half a day later.
How did you know it was time to step down?
The main reason was covid.
You were with Tell for a long time, what are some memorable moments?
When I started, we were at the old location. That lasted for about 10 years before we moved. There were 4 directors in my time, each had their particular style. When the director changes, the style of the room changes, and some people can have a hard time adjusting. But while Vickie has been in charge a lot of good things have happened Turnover can be quite large, with many foreigners leaving the country and a lot of people that I used to interact with have left. I also like the supervision meetings when we would get together, but COVID put an end to that, having meetings online has allowed people to join all around the country or not travel to Tokyo which does have its good points. But I feel you lose some of the friendships that were created when you only see someone on a computer once a month. It’s a different kind of feeling.
Any advice to potential applicants?
The only advice I would give: the more you listen, the less you speak the better you are doing. That way you can build up more focused feedback and empathetic questions when you are thinking about them and not about your own feelings about the call. It’s anonymous whoever you are talking to, you never see them, they don’t know who you are and it’s quite safe. I was suicidal when I was very young, and one thing that helped me cope with cancer was thinking I have already lived for 50 years longer than I was meant to Somewhere inside them, they want to live, and you have to help them find that. You can’t lie to them by giving them hope because sometimes the situation is really difficult. In training you will be asked to look at challenges you went through and what helped you get through and then help people do the same.
Burnout: you can burnout after a long time on the line. It happened to me and what worked was trying to say the same things in a different way with care and concern. If I find myself being repetitive, I would think to myself – I am not doing it as well as I could. The mere fact of going on the line and taking a call can be difficult, and I feel grateful for the contribution of the current Support Workers who want to help the community at large.