Hot Line Helper Finds Pain, Enrichment

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* Jim Rahn, 35

Occupation: National sales manager for steel products company.

Organization: Hotline Help Center

Address: P.O. Box 999, Anaheim, Calif., 92815. (714) 778-1000

Four years ago, Jim Rahn was searching for a way to fulfill the moral imperative of his Catholic faith to do good deeds.

He wanted to do something that demanded more of a commitment than the occasional paper drive or sporadic church work.

So he followed up on an item he had seen in the church bulletin, and it changed his life.

As a volunteer counselor for the Hotline Help Center, one of the county’s busiest crisis hot lines, Rahn has faced the most elemental of life’s needs: one human being needing another.


It has been painful and frustrating but also totally enriching, Rahn says.

“There are times when I have wanted to leave, but I feel this is what I do to give something back,” he said recently as he prepared to begin a five-hour evening shift at the hot line’s cramped offices in Orange.

His sudden emersion in human sorrow was a total departure for the 35-year-old Rahn, whose background as a mechanical engineer gave him no training in counseling or psychology.

“There was a lot of trepidation, especially about the suicide callers, that was scary, but I also had a lot of confidence that having worked closely with people in sales, I could offer some insights,” he explained.

As part of the program, Rahn received more than 60 hours of training in drug-abuse counseling, crisis intervention and how to deal with suicidal callers. After the training, volunteers spend a minimum of three sessions observing supervisors at work before venturing out on their own.

Rahn has had to develop a resilient emotional hide to weather the ups and downs of manning a crisis hot line. In a field where burnout and high turnover are occupational hazards, he has been able to endure by limiting himself to one weekly five-hour shift.

“Some nights I go home and I’m wiped out, and other nights I’m fine,” he said. “Over the years, I’ve become very realistic about what I can and can’t do. While the goal is to help everyone, the expectation is we will help very few.”


Most problematic, of course, are the suicide callers--and the frustration is not knowing how such cases turn out. Rahn cites the case a few years ago of a man suffering through the latter stages of AIDS who had overdosed on pills. After alerting police and paramedics, Rahn said he never learned how long the man survived.

But there are also the times when a regular will call in asking to speak to his friend “Jim,” and on such occasions Rahn feels as if a link has been established and the relationship is not so anonymous. “I get a little back and feel like I’ve given something to them.”

Rahn, a bachelor who grew up in a close-knit family, said the amount of pain and dysfunction “right here in one of the most affluent communities” has been a revelation.

But his work has served to reinforce his faith and lend perspective to his own life. “When I leave here, a lot of the problems I thought I had . . . tend to diminish,” he said.