Lifeline telephone counsellor Gordon Serone (left) with Lifeline Northern Rivers counselling centre manager Niall Mulligan.
Lifeline telephone counsellor Gordon Serone (left) with Lifeline Northern Rivers counselling centre manager Niall Mulligan.

A lifeline for those in trouble

Gordon Serone says being a volunteer telephone counsellor with Lifeline Northern Rivers has made him more nurturing towards his own family and aware that many of the ‘problems’ in his life are actually inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.

The Bentley cattle farmer and plumber was a member of the Rural Fire Service for many years but, when his eyesight began to fail, he had to give up his volunteer position with the brigade and decided to become a telephone counsellor.

“I heard an ad on ABC radio one morning saying they wanted people with lots of life experience, and my wife said, ‘Gee, you could do that’. I’ve seen my fair share of trauma and tragedy,” Gordon said. “And being a plumber was good practice – you get called out to fix a practical problem but often people tell you all about their personal problems too.”

Lifeline Northern Rivers provides crisis telephone counselling to more than 600 troubled callers each month. People call for a variety of reasons and the spectrum is broad, from the extreme cases of people contemplating suicide to people who are simply lonely and need a friendly ear.

“Some days it’s really hard and you walk out with tears rolling down your face. Other days you leave feeling like you’ve really accomplished something because you’ve made someone happy,” Gordon said. “It’s something you do for your fellow man – some people do Meals on Wheels or the Rural Fire Service, and this is another way of being there for somebody. We live in a society and we all rely on one other.

“I found I have a lot of empathy for these people and your own problems become insignificant when you hear some of their stories. I’ve got no worries… well, except for a teenage daughter. She just got her Ps last week!”

Gordon, who has been a counsellor for two-and-a-half years, said often it’s just a case of listening and being there rather than actively doing anything.

“Everybody has the solution to their problem within themselves – you’ve just got to draw that out,” he said. “Often I approach it with a bit of humour – people seem to respond to that. Some people are really just lonely and sad and need someone to talk to – some people have no-one in their lives but Lifeline.”

Gordon said one call he could be talking to a troubled 16-year-old girl, the next to an isolated 80-year-old man. Nationally, Lifeline takes about 30 to 50 calls a day related to suicide, and Gordon said they are the calls that often stay with you.

“It gives you a big boost of adrenalin to click on that caller and help them through it. I often feel drained after one of those calls but like I’ve really accomplished something for that person,” Gordon said. “It’s a bit like when I was in the Rural Service and there’s a big fire – you feel a weight of responsibility. It makes you put your whole into it.”

Gordon does one shift a fortnight as a telephone counsellor with Lifeline Northern Rivers and said that allows him plenty of time to process the calls before his next session.

And while it’s not always an emotionally easy role, he said being a telephone counsellor has changed him for the better.

“It makes me more nurturing to my family and friends and to those I meet – I look deeper into people,” Gordon said. “I wouldn’t want to be a professional counsellor – if I had face-to-face contact with them I’d want to grab them and hug them and wrap them up and look after them… I’d probably end up taking some of them home! For me, the anonymity makes it safe.”

To maintain its volunteer numbers, and ensure callers receive the help and support they need, Lifeline Northern Rivers holds two training courses a year and is now seeking new volunteers.

The next course runs from February 25 to April 22 with a three-week Easter holiday break. Most of the sessions will be held on Tuesday and Thursday evenings between 6pm and 9pm. For more information, phone counselling centre manager Niall Mulligan on 6622 4133.

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