The Rescuers

I have observed that most people who are drawn to this kind of work – helping people in crisis – have a certain disposition…. We’re rescuers.  We want to save people.  While this is a very noble quality, it’s a quality to watch out for because, unchecked, it could get us into a “mess”.

When someone calls and explains a particular problem, we rescuers immediately rush to the caller’s side to offer support and a listening ear.  This is often called empathy and is a wonderful quality of a rescuer.  When someone calls and attributes their emotional suffering to a specific individual’s wrong doing, we will often rush to protect our caller– we may immediately want to say “yes, you are right, they are wrong, they are awful.”

In supporting our caller, we need to support them in their relationship with the other person.  For that reason, we train our call workers to do something that may be a little counter-intuitive at first, but helps the caller feel more empowered to deal with their situation.   We train to focus on the caller – What other ways can the caller try to use to deal with this person?

We train our call workers to recognize when they may be engaging in what is commonly referred to in social systems psychology as a “triangle” – each of three people are playing a role in a two person relationship – rescuer, persecutor, and victim.  The caller is usually the victim, the call worker the rescuer, and the third party the persecutor.  When the call worker accepts the role of the third party as a persecutor, they have committed themselves to this triangle, in which there is no clear “winner”, but only cycling tension by making judgments about the third party through the caller’s perceptions. They are also accepting the role of the caller as a victim.

We can help our callers see themselves as their own rescuers – someone that has the power to begin to change their own lives.

– David C.


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