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Virtual counsellor steps in to help out on suicide hotline


4 April 2019 at 8:27 am
Maggie Coggan
One of Australia’s largest suicide helplines is trialing a virtual counsellor as the first point of call for people accessing the site, in a bid to make the service faster and easier to access.  


Maggie Coggan | 4 April 2019 at 8:27 am


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Virtual counsellor steps in to help out on suicide hotline
4 April 2019 at 8:27 am

One of Australia’s largest suicide helplines is trialing a virtual counsellor as the first point of call for people accessing the site, in a bid to make the service faster and easier to access.  

Created by digital counselling service provider, On the Line, “Claire” uses scripts and conversation prompts on the Suicide Call Back Service, asking multiple questions and answers, to figure what risk level the caller is, and where to direct them on the website.    

On the Line CEO Kim O’Neill told Pro Bono News the scripts Claire followed were created by counselors and psychologists under a standard counselling framework.  

O’Neill said it would significantly speed up the time it takes to direct callers to help, freeing up counselors to talk to people who need immediate assistance.

“Phone counselors can only speak to one person at a time whereas Claire can speak to lots of people and provide support to people immediately,” she said.

“If somebody is in need of immediate support then they can quickly call the service line but if they’re just looking for information on the website and don’t need a counsellor to talk one-on-one to, Claire can also do that.”         

She said while they were not trying to pretend it was the same as talking to a human counsellor, it could be the first step for many seeking help.    

“It’s not the same as a human interaction… but the research is telling us increasingly that people will use digital channels including social media to talk about their feelings,” she said.  

“People would rather talk to somebody even if they know it’s a digital assistant then talk to nobody.”

Claire will be trailed on the Suicide Callback Service for the next six months, with how people interact with the bot, which answers are most popular, and at what point people stop using the bot, being measured.

O’Neill said if the pilot was successful, On the Line would look to tailor the service to their other major mental health hotlines such as MensLine and SuicideLine Victoria.

“By leveraging technology in intelligent ways, we can provide accessible and flexible services for our clients and allow for better information transfer, now and in the future,” she said.


Maggie Coggan  |  Journalist  |  @MaggieCoggan

Maggie Coggan is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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One comment

  • Mary says:

    how sad, people need human connection when contacting helplines. I will no longer be referring my clients to these helplines if this goes ahead.

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