Posted by Dr. Kelly R. Rasmussen


Years and years (& years) of taking 911 calls and then training those who answer those calls have accumulated to what I now call "Lessons Learned from Suicidal Callers" and the art of understanding empathy.

In a 911 call from a person who has lost all hope, the only thing they have left is their word. We practice hundreds of Text-to-911 calls in our online trainingcourse, it reminds me often of the lessons we all can learn from those who have only 1 hope left and that is 911!

Lesson 1
Suicidal callers are trying to communicate something they do not have the words to tell you. They are "out of words" or they cannot express it in words. They cannot put it together in a way to make sense and the only option that makes sense is to give up. In 911, the dispatcher is there to buy time and build rapport and by using empathy, it allows the person to travel through the ambivalence and hopefully, just maybe, we interrupt the act this time.

Lesson 2
There is this thing, the only thing that they have left to stand on; their WORD. If a suicidal caller gives you their word, usually it is all they have left. Knowing a family member who chose to leave, I would have to say this is a most intimate and important part of what the suicidal person has at the end. In 911, you sometimes have to trust their word (since you cannot see the scene). You have to believe them that they will do it (even if it's the 11th or more time they've called). You have to believe them that they will not hurt anyone else (or your responders). You have to build them up via "rapport building" in order to measure their meaning of "giving their word."

Lesson 3
One of the toughest things for anyone to do is use empathy in a way that changes another person's direction of thoughts and actions. By that, the 911 dispatcher has to say, "me too." In a short period of time, they have to convince that caller who is distraught, angry, empty and hopeless, that we all go through bad times and bad feelings. For instance, "You sound alone and scared, I've felt alone and scared before too." "You sound mad at yourself and the world, I've been rather mad at myself too." When the suicidal caller knows you've really been there, you've really had those feelings (mad, alone, angry, etc.... not suicidal), they want to know this 1 thing most of all - "How did you overcome, (win, succeed, get out, make it, survive?). 

You see, when we practice empathy and understanding and build an honest rapport and let the other person be heard, people start to feel ok again about living, life, and themselves. 

In 911, where seconds count, MANY lives depend on how well, how fast, and how good you are at listening and understanding what people are feeling!

Just call me Dr. Kelly :)
Dr. Kelly R. Rasmussen