Telephone counseling: Because someone is there to listen – Bavaria

A black telephone on a sober, bright desk, behind it is a view through the window of the Untersberg and the Predigtstuhl. Whoever calls here has the number of the Telephone pastoral care of the Catholic Archdiocese of Munich and Freising chosen. Because he or she needs comfort, attention, help or simply good advice. The telephone pastoral care of the diocese has existed for 60 years – their phones are in Munich, in Mühldorf and for 29 years here in Bad Reichenhall. The volunteers at all three locations share shifts. In Bad Reichenhall alone, almost 30 people are on the phone for others, for four hours during the day and twice as long at night. Maria Fritzenwenger started at the age of 60 and over the course of a year on several weekends an intensive training obtain. She has been answering calls for telephone counseling for 13 years.

SZ: Ms. Fritzenwenger, if you were to answer the phone at the counseling service, how would you answer it?

Maria Fritzenwenger: “Telephone counseling, Hello,” I always say.

Won’t you say your name?

Our conversations are anonymous, for the callers and also for us. We also don’t say where we’re sitting, that’s part of the anonymity. It may be that someone in Munich, in Garmisch or in Augsburg calls the telephone counseling service and then comes to me in Reichenhall, depending on availability.

What concerns are people calling?

That’s a very wide range. A separation, everyday problems or disputes in the family. Or the death of the partner. Some people also talk about their illnesses, physical and psychological. There are very, very many people who call more often, sometimes every day.

These are the lonely ones who just want to talk to someone?

Yes. Many callers come to us with their loneliness.

Are more people reporting over the Christmas and New Year period than usual?

I think so. Because people feel especially now that they are lonely. Because they know that next door or diagonally across the street, the neighbors get together in their families. This can make the loneliness even worse.

What can you give these callers?

First time. We listen to them, that’s something very important. And we listen carefully, also to the nuances. And if they can simply tell someone their story, it often helps them a lot. Many talk about their childhood. When I sit down on the phone, I want to be there for the caller with open ears, goodwill and a lot of empathy, to take their problems, worries and fears seriously and appreciate them. As they are and with the concerns that they have. Some then talk very quickly so that they have a little more time. Or they call multiple times. Some also say that they have just spoken to a colleague.

Are you also free enough to end a conversation on your own?

Yes, we even have to. We have to see that such a conversation can be held within a reasonable time. Although that can sometimes be a whole hour. But the next time I answer the phone, it always happens that people say, “It’s good that they’re finally answering, I’ve been trying for half an hour.” This is exactly the reason why a conversation sometimes has to come to an end. For example, when at some point it just keeps going in circles. Then I say, I understand this and that now, is that correct? That way I can try to continue in a sensible direction. We all have the right to have helpful conversations.

What do you do when a conversation goes in the wrong direction?

There is such a thing. Then I say I don’t want to continue like this. What I never, really never do is hang up unannounced.

And if you are not able to help, but rather therapeutic or direct help is needed?

There are various services that we can recommend to people and give them the addresses and numbers. But there are also sometimes callers who are already in a clinic. Or they say I’ll be picked up soon, but until then I don’t want to be alone.

What do you do when you reach your own limits in a conversation?

After particularly upsetting conversations, take a short break with a cup of hot tea. So that I can clear my head before I take the next call. If conversations get very bad and get to the point, we always have the opportunity, even in the middle of the night, to call a full-time officer on duty. But that doesn’t happen that often. And we can take anything to our supervision groups and discuss it with our colleagues. We all have our own problems and experiences in life. If we encounter something similar with a caller, then some of us may be able to handle it all the better and others just not at all. Overall, working on the phone is enriching for me and makes me very satisfied and happy.

Do current topics such as the Ukraine war, Corona or inflation play a greater role at the moment?

I myself have only once had a conversation that was about the war. But overall it was already an issue. Many older people have come forward, and the memories of the war have erupted again. The fact that everything is now becoming more expensive and that the need is increasing for many people is of course also being discussed more and more. During the Corona period, I noticed that many people also wanted to distract themselves from the pandemic. Some want to discuss politics, but there are few. I’ll be very general then.

The telephone pastoral care is a church institution. Is it a question of faith?

No, not that much. The range of people who call us is very large. But there are also people who ask me to pray with them.

How should a conversation end?

With a good farewell. It makes me happy when someone says thank you, I’m better now. Maybe not because the problem is solved now, but because we could just talk about it and someone is there who listened patiently.

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