Britain's Helplines set for a boost from Loughborough academic
A Loughborough academic is planning to set up a website aimed at giving advice to the nation’s advisers, as well as other Helpline researchers.
Dr Alexa Hepburn, from the School of Social Sciences, has set up a Helpline Research Unit, and now wants to establish a website that can offer help and advice to Helplines throughout the country, particularly those with limited resources.
The initiative comes at a time when many child protection and counselling focused Helplines have found themselves under increasing pressure due to the Jimmy Savile affair, with many more people calling them with stories of abuse.
Dr Hepburn, Reader in Conversation Analysis and Programme Director of Social Psychology, has been involved in Helpline research for more than 10 years and has worked with major organisations like the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), Childline and Kids’ Helpline in Australia.
Dr Hepburn said: “Helpline workers often deal with very sensitive, very difficult and often life or death situations without a lot of funding and support.
“One goal for the website is to collect research and publications together. This will provide resources for other researchers interested in Helplines.
“But the website will also be outward facing so that any Helpline practitioners can use it. I will be adding resources that will allow practitioners to work through anonymised examples of interaction.
“The goal is to turn examples of existing good practices into strategies that Helpline workers can use. It will be a tool to give advice to the advisers working in Helplines.”
Dr Hepburn said the website would offer advice on things like how best to open or close a conversation with a caller, how to manage emotions such as upset and anger, how to give advice, and how to react when the callers resist taking advice.
She added: “With Helplines like the NSPCC you have people talking about quite traumatic things. For example, with all the recent Jimmy Savile publicity, there have been lots of people divulging abuse for the first time.
“These can be very, very emotional calls and dealing with that kind of emotion is often a challenge for Helpline practitioners.
“This is one area I have worked on quite a lot, understanding and handling emotion in interaction.
“Another tricky area is advice-giving. As a child protection Helpline worker you may need to persuade callers to put their children’s interests above their own. How do you do that? What can you do to persuade them to go to family counselling or behave more responsibly if they don’t want to?”
Dr Hepburn says she got the idea for the website from doing workshops around the country, as well as working closely with the NSPCC.
She said that with the Helpline Research Unit now established, it seemed like a good time to ‘bring everyone together and formalise the expertise we have got.’
Dr Hepburn is a member of Loughborough’s internationally renowned Discourse and Rhetoric Group (DARG), some of whom are involved in her research.
She has published widely on issues of child protection and bullying in school, and on developments in discursive and critical psychology.
She has delivered workshops on interaction analysis all over the world and her research into various interactional features of the NSPCC Helpline was awarded a Leverhulme fellowship.
She has also written two books, An Introduction to Critical Social Psychology, and Discursive Research in Practice: New approaches to psychology and interaction.
Anyone who would like to help fund the website should contact Dr Hepburn on: firstname.lastname@example.org or 01509 228876.