Staying healthy in Japan

Features Health - May 24th, 1985

by Elyse М. Rogers 


I’ve been planning to write up the very fine work being done by TELL ever since I began writing this column. And, although I’ve had the opportunity to meet with Miriam Olson, TELL’s personable Director, several times on other matters, I’ve never formally interviewed her for this column. Until now, that is. Fortunately, TELL is well known to the foreign community and in my research on the organization, I ran across a number of fine articles on TELL in our own Tokyo Weekender.

Perhaps it’s only fitting that I quote from one of the first articles on TELL that appeared in the Weekender on June 29, 1973:

“TELL opened its line to troubled Tokyoites on Apr. 1, of this year, a truly ecumenical effort by the five English-language churches in Tokyo— Tokyo Union, St. Alban’s, the Franciscan Chapel Center, Tokyo Baptist and St. Paul (International) Lutheran. In the first two and a half months of operation, over 360 calls were received.”

Well, here it is more than 12 years later and TELL is still hard at work serving the foreign community. But there are some changes. The number of calls, for one thing. The number of calls has more than doubled to a whopping 3,200 calls in 1984. Plus there are many repeat calls per shift.

Also, a new service, “Tokyo Tapes” was added in 1979. These tapes give information on a variety of topic* and run from 5-8 minutes per tape. Folks who want more general information on such topics as Loneliness or Marital Problems, may dial the service and request those tapes. If after hearing the tape they wish to talk personally with a counse­lor, they are encouraged to do so.

Perhaps a bit of history is in order. . . and the history of TELL can best be told by Miriam Olson who has been involved since the beginning. “I started with TELL as a volunteer,” she recalls. “Then I began helping in the office in addition to working as a telephone counselor. After a year I became assistant direc­tor and then director in 1977.”

The inspiration for the tele­phone service, Miriam ex­plains, came from Ruth Hetcamp. a German missionary here in Japan who was the founder of Inochi no Denwa, which means (“telephone of life.”) Hetcamp had been help­ing “women of the streets,” par­ticularly the young women who had come in from the country and become involved in prosti­tution when there were no other jobs available.

When the anti-prostitution law went into effect, Miss Hetcamp was no longer able to contact these women. She had known of a telephone counseling service in Germany and felt maybe this would be the way to reach those young women (and others) in need of help. As a result, Inochi no Denwa began its services on Oct. 1, 1971. Several foreigners were involved, and it wasn’t long before a sister service for the foreign community (TELL) was suggested and launched.

Interesting us history is, it’s what’s happening today that counts. And TELL is in to­day’s world with both feet. (Or perhaps I should say with both phones.) Its main goal, ac­cording to Miriam, is “To provide confidential counseling in English for those who are in difficulty and don’t know where to turn.” In TELL’s brochure it explains the pro­gram’s four basic functions under the caption, “We listen and care…”

1) TELL Listens — many times the biggest single need of the person in trouble or distress is to tell his story to someone who will listen.

2) TELL Enables — the caller has the opportunity to sort out his concerns and find his own resources during his conversation with the counselor.

3) TELL Refer — if the caller needs or wishes other types of help, TELL will refer him to other professionals or organizations, etc.

4) TELL Intervenes — in crisis situations. In situations where more than talk is needed, they’ll find resources to give immediate help. If language help is needed, they’ll have one of their bilingual staff assist with the problem.

To carry out those four vital functions. TELL has a large staff of competent volunteers— 50-70 of them, in fact. Volun­teers must go through 60 hours of training and serve as an apprentice on phone counseling duty for at least five sessions before “graduating” to the rank of full fledged TELL coun­selors.

Because of the turnover of foreigners in Japan, TELL loses about 20 counselors a year who must be replaced with new volunteers. Those of you out there (men or women) who have an interest in this type of work should consider this very needed service. A new volunteer training program starts each fall. According to Miriam “Volunteers say they get as much, if not more out of their volunteer duty than they put into it.” Certainly at the very least they have the hearlfelt thanks of the foreign com­munity.

I should mention that the volunteer (after training) serves only two four-hour shifts per month, so many of us could consider this community service even with busy schedules. (For more information, call the TELL business phone number at 261-7314.)

In addition to staffing the personal counseling lines, TELL counselors also staff the very popular Tokyo Tapes program. As I mentioned above, anyone can call in and request any of the more than 80 tapes. I’ll write in detail about Tokyo Tapes in a later column, but for those of you who might like to hear some of them before that, call Tokyo Tapes at its own phone number—262-0224. For a list of tape titles, ask to hear tape #302. As with all aspects of TELL services, the service is strictly confidential; the caller docs not need to identify him­self in any way.

TELL continues to be spon­sored by the five English lan­guage churches that began the program, but the service is for all, with no concern for reli­gious affiliation or lack of it. In addition, Miriam made a point of saying that “Even though we believe that we practice as a Christian ministry, we do not impose a particular religious viewpoint or attempt in any way to proselytize,” That they successfully practice their philosophy is indicated by the fact that many of their fine counselors are not Christi­ans.

Since much of their financial as well as managerial support comes from the churches, they recently attempted to repay that debt in an interesting way. They scheduled a special work­shop series on “the Gift of Listening,” that was offered at the very modest cost of ¥1,500 to participating church mem­bers. Although the response was “a bit disappointing,” according to Miriam, the concept is a most exciting one. Just “listen” to what they say about listen­ing and see if you don’t agree that it’s a skill we all need to acquire or polish:

“In contemporary Western societies, caring is often so action-oriented we think that unless we can find a solution or give material help, we have not done anything. Yet we know from personal experience with pain and stress that listening is the most powerful enabling gift. Nothing confirms our existence or sense of worth more than to have someone really listen (emphasis mine) without judging or interpret­ing.”

What does TELL hope to do in the future? Are there any plans for change? Miriam Olson said she has two main goals for TELL — 1) to in­crease the hours of service, if possible, and 2) to “continue to improve the training and on­going education of the coun­selors.”

Like most non-profit, volun­tary services, funds for TELL arc always a problem. Current­ly the five churches, corporate donations and some private donations support their ser­vices.

TELL has some materials that might be of interest. There’s the TELL card that lists services and phone numbers; the TELL brochure that de­scribes their services in more detail and gives information on how to make a donation; and a Tokyo Tape list which gives the titles and numbers of all 86 tapes.

The TELL line is open eight hours a day, 9 a.m.-1 p.m., and 7-11 p.m., Monday through Friday. To talk confidentially with a counselor, phone 264-4347.