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For the Students, By the Students

Nightline Provides Counseling, Information, and Support Services

By Aaron D. Mihalik

Associate Features Editor

Since its start on November 1, 1978, Nightline has been providing the community with listening and information services through their hotline. From 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., two nightline staffers are waiting to take calls from the MIT community.

Nightline receives two types of calls -- “information” calls and “listening” or “counseling” calls. While the number of calls varies throughout the year, typically Nightline receives 10-15 information calls and “maybe 2” serious calls a night, said a Nightline student coordinator, who preferred to remain anonymous. Serious calls range from “students being stressed out” to calls that deal with “serious issues -- as serious as suicide,” the coordinator said.

“There is a huge range of reasons that people might call up,” said Kimberly G. McGlothin, the primary advisor for Nightline and the Assistant Dean of Counseling and Support Services. People can call up to talk about a number of topics including “depression, academic stress, [or] difficulties with relationships,” said McGlothin. Or “anything that might be giving a person difficulty.”

If a caller is seeking counseling, Nightline provides them with an anonymous and confidential place to talk. Also, Nightline is completely student staffed. “We recognize that we are not professionals,” said the coordinator. But we “try to talk the person through the situation ... and we do our best to understand what the person is going through.”

People can also call Nightline to ask for information. “It can be anything [like] the phone number of some other resource on campus,” said McGlothin.

Anonymity and secrecy

Nightline continues to keep its reputation as a very secret organization. Over the years, Nightline has moved locations and changed its phone number several times to retain its secrecy. The reason why Nightline remains secretive is “not because we want to be a secret organization,” said the coordinator, but because “anonymity is crucial to the work we are doing.”

The identity of the Nightline listeners is protected and kept private. This privacy “adds to the sense of safety and anonymity on both ends,” said McGlothin. Having the identity of the listeners kept private is for listeners’ protection. Nightline is available to people outside of the MIT community. “One of the concerns ... is the safety and the comfort of the staffers,” said McGlothin. Not publishing Nightline’s location and the identity of the listeners is important to retain that security, said McGlothin.

Also, the listener does not know the identity of the caller. During the advent of Automatic Number Identification (caller ID), Nightline wrote a number of letters to The Tech, stressing that their phones are not equipped with this feature. “Our phones are unable to give us any information regarding a caller’s identity,” read a letter published in 1989.

A Nightline member “will never talk about something that happens in a call outside of Nightline,” said the coordinator. “No records are kept, and nothing will ever leave Nightline.”

Several weeks of training

A Nightline listener is required to complete a substantial amount of training before he or she is allowed to receive calls. Also, all Nightline listeners are required to periodically attended workshops to review and learn new skills. Generally, the initial training lasts for several weeks and is “pretty intensive,” said McGlothin. The training is “broad ... [and] it covers a lot of types of different issues.”

The more experienced staffers teach the initial training period. The experienced staffers consult with the Mental Health professionals before training new staffers. “The training has been established and running well for quite some time,” said McGlothin. “The actual training is run by the students.”

Most of the training is done through role-playing exercises. After recording a mock session, an experienced listener critiques the trainees and teaches them “how to listen ... in a way that [Nightline] feels is helpful and appropriate,” said the coordinator.

Additionally, the trainee is provided with information on “different issues and different approaches to taking calls,” said the coordinator. The initial training is “a combination of reading the information ... and practicing taking calls in the mock setup.” The other main component of the training is to learn how to search for information for a caller.

However, the training does not end there. Listeners attended weekly meetings with an advisor and several other Nightline listeners to review topics. These advisors include professors around MIT and professionals from the Mental Health Department at MIT Medical. These sessions provide listeners with a place to talk about a difficult call. “I can tell [the group] about my call,” said the coordinator. And the members of the session can “tell me what I could have done better.”

Also, listeners have to participate in two half-day training seminars during a semester. During these sessions a speaker will come to discuss a particular issue that Nightline receives calls about. For instance, a speaker might be an expert in “suicide, eating disorders or any number of things,” said McGlothin.

How Nightline is advised

Nightline receives support from the Dean’s office and the Mental Health Department. Although Nightline has a large pool of faculty and mental health professionals to draw from, it remains very much a student organization. The individuals who advise Nightline are members of the MIT faculty or the Mental Health Department. “They’ve always had those people as resources,” said McGlothin “But the philosophy of Nightline is, and always has been, that it’s very much student run.”

McGlothin said that she does not involve herself in many of Nightline’s operations, but serves “as a back up and to provide supervision,” and to “meet with the coordinators ... to go over issues that have come up.”

“All of the decisions are made by students,” said the coordinator. Except for some advice and financial support, “everything is student run and student staffed.”

Why Nightline is needed

Nightline is one of the many resources that students can use if they are need of any type of mental health service. Although students can turn to Counseling and Support Services or the Medical Department for support, “Nightline is unique in that is it anonymous and confidential,” said McGlothin.

Also, “Nightline is something that you can immediately pick up the phone and decide that you want to talk to somebody.” Nightline is a resource for many people “who might not be sure yet if they are ready to go and get some kind of help,” said McGlothin.

They “might have an easier time calling and talking to someone anonymously.” Also, Nightline listeners are students and this “offers a perspective... that is different from going and talking to a professional,” said McGlothin.

To join Nightline

Currently, Nightline is made up of 30 students. It is composed of both undergraduates as well as graduate students. “We’re always looking for new people,” said the coordinator. If a student is interested in joining Nightline, he or she should call and let the listener know his or her intentions. The listener will answer any questions that the caller might have about the program.

Then they set up a face-to-face interview with some of the staffers and advisors. The interview is a “fairly lengthy interview process,” said McGlothin. People who are selected as listeners find it a “very cool way to help the MIT community,” said the coordinator. Also, Nightline listeners volunteer their time -- they do not get paid.

The number for Nightline on-campus is x3-8800. This number is often times referred to as “Def Tuv Tuv Oper Oper” (referring to the set of letters corresponding to each number on a touch tone phone). The number from off campus is (617) 253-8800.