Telephone Skills and Mental Health

Course overview

This one day course is designed for staff at all levels who work with people on the phone who are stressed, distressed, confused or angry, or who have mental health problems. We examine the different ways in which calls can be challenging, and look at the possible causes of these issues. We then focus on responding to challenging calls, beginning with things to avoid saying and doing because they will increase tensions. We then look at skills to use to de-escalate tense phone calls and to provide ‘good customer care’. The need for boundaries and written guidance concerning certain issues is made clear, as well as the importance of emergency procedures. We finish by looking at the workers’ stress levels, which can accelerate when dealing with challenging calls, and ways in which staff can look after themselves.

Learning objectives

By the end of this course delegates should be better able to describe

  • How stress, distress and mental health problems can affect telephone communication
  • The main types of challenging calls, and what might be causing them
  • The importance of boundaries and limitations to keep yourself, the caller and the service safe
  • The essential skills to use when responding to challenging calls

Course content

  • Good practice framework when responding to callers with mental health issues
  • Mental health awareness: recognising signs that a caller may have a mental health issue
  • Recognising impact on staff of distressed, needy or demanding calls
  • Clarifying your role when handling calls from people with mental health issues or challenging behaviours
  • Some common pitfalls to avoid
  • The standard model of call
  • The boundaries continuum: personal and professional boundaries and how to manage these
  • How to respond to challenging calls – using your communication skills to manage challenging calls including empathy, reflections, focusing and summarising
  • Endings – how to close a call down without causing distres
  • How to respond to someone who presents as a risk to themselves
  • Looking after yourself: the importance of de-briefing, essential self-care and managing stress
  • When and how to access extra support

Training methods

  • Group work
  • Case studies
  • Quiz
  • Trainer presentations
  • Debate and discussion
  • PowerPoint presentations
  • Handouts


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