Communication, Media, Social and Policy Studies



Helpline Research Unit

The Loughborough University Helpline Research Unit studies interactions in actual calls to telephone helplines. Unit researchers are experts in studying social interaction across a range of interactional contexts, and have a special interest in understanding how helpline call-takers manage helpline calls in real time.

Research carried out by the group has examined issues such as how callers present their situation, problem or enquiry; how helpline calls are opened and closed; how advice, information and support are given and received; and how strong emotions are managed.  They also consider the operation of web and text based support.  Research findings are used to inform helpline practices and policies through bespoke and generic workshops and resources.

Present, past an affiliated members and affiliated members have worked with a number of UK and international helplines, including NSPCC, Compassion in Dying End-of-Life Rights Information Line, NHS Direct, AlcoLine, Macmillan Cancer, Parkinsons UK, Mind Infoline, Fibromyalgia Association (UK), DANDA (Developmental Adult Neuro-Diversity Association), Kids HelpLine (Australia), Child Health Line (Australia), and Health Direct.

For further information about the research unit, please contact Dr Carly Butler.

Affiliates and past members


Discourse and Rhetoric Group (DARG)

The HRU is part of Loughborough’s internationally renowned Discourse and Rhetoric Group.

The HRU welcome opportunities to work with helplines, and offers a range of bespoke and generic training and consultancy services. We can deliver workshops, identify training needs and develop training packages, based on cutting-edge research on effective helpline interaction. We can also offer expert analysis of individual calls or of particular challenges within helpline calls. Members of our team have experience working with telephone calls as well as with textual helpline interaction such as online messaging, email or texting services.

All the work we do is based on actual recordings of real-life helpline interactions. Using a method called conversation analysis, we identify call-handling skills and practices that call-takers themselves are often unaware of, and examine some of the more nuanced aspects of helpline calls that traditional training tends not to cover. We run accessible, interactive workshops grounded in an evidence base generated from rigorous analysis of actual helpline interactions. If you are interested in learning more about how the science of social interaction can benefit your helpline, contact Carly Butler.

Recent and current research projects include:

  • Texting for help: Offering support via SMS on a self-harm helpline.

Selected recent publications

  • Butler, C.W., Danby, S., & Emmison, M. (2015). Avoiding giving advice in telephone counselling for children and young people: Empowerment as practical action. In F. Chevalier & J. Moore (Eds.). Constraints and Interactional Restrictions in Institutional Talk: Studies in Conversation Analysis with John Benjamins.