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Speak to me dot com

Posted Date: 29/08/2011

The Times of Malta - 29 August 2011


Online counselling could be the way forward to tackle adolescent issues, considering practically everything is being channelled through the internet, especially in the case of youths.

The website, a joint effort between SOS Malta, the Salesians of Don Bosco and Aġenzija Appoġġ, is aimed at reaching out to children and teenagers. Given that 97 per cent of teenagers have access to the internet, psychotherapist Nicola Critien believes it is a good channel to offer them support in an easy and practical way.

The truth is youths may feel awkward discussing face to face what is on their mind, so, which is in both Maltese and English, could be a first step to seeking assistance, Ms Critien maintains.

What it needs, however, is more awareness, as well as a solid team of volunteers to “own the project” and make sure it takes off.

The first group of volunteers recently completed its 40 hours of training, so the response has been trickling in, said Ms Critien, who is the project manager at SOS Malta and has been working on, set up under the guidance of Child Helpline International, for three years.

The next training session is in October and the website is seeking to recruit a good number of volunteers to be prepared for any response once it starts to reach out to schools.

Ideally, the volunteers would have a background in the caring professions but Ms Critien is aware that she can not only rely on psychology students.

They would have to make sure the website is up to date and dynamic, but more importantly, their role is to respond to the e-mails they receive, under the supervision of professionals.

In fact, is not only driven by volunteers but also has psychotherapists and counsellors on board, who offer them support sessions.

And the service does not stop at answering e-mails: if the psychotherapist feels that is not enough, it also offers the opportunity for face-to-face counselling.

As to whether it is safe for volunteers to take on such a sensitive role, Ms Critien says any applicants underwent a thorough screening programme, while the structure involves professionals. was first launched last May but it did not go too public during the pilot project.

Its aim is to infiltrate schools to talk to students about the benefits of confiding in someone of trust and how the site could supplement the help already on offer from guidance teachers. It is currently awaiting the go-ahead from the authorities to have access to them.

Ms Critien highlighted the benefits of “reaching out and not keeping problems to yourself”. But she is also aware of the fact that children have been educated against online dangers related to divulging too much information to unknowns.

“It could take a while until we build the trust,” she acknowledges, pointing out that focus groups carried out in schools showed only 21 per cent of students would use the website because they have been warned by many teachers not to trust strangers on the internet. It is hoped the site would also serve as a reference point, with its case studies on issues linked to adolescents’ reality, including bullying and peer pressure.

Asked what she considers the major problems youths are facing today, Ms Critien believes they remain identity and body image issues, drugs and alcohol, loneliness and broken families.

It is clear that the services for children and adolescents in Malta are “stretched” and no similar online facilities exist, so hopes to fill in the gaps, she says.

From the feedback so far, it appears that youths are “testing the waters” and getting a feel for the website.

“This is not a crisis line and if anything comes in that requires police involvement, we would immediately direct the youths to the 179 helpline.”’s role is support and it has no intentions of overstepping that mark.



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