Human beings face small or large changes throughout their life, sometimes by choice, sometimes because circumstances and events are forced upon them. This can happen in a sudden and dramatic way and involve not only individuals, but communities and society as a whole, as with the Covid-19 pandemic and the recent armed conflict in Europe. 

Sometimes changes forced upon us are not easy, but acceptance is the prerequisite to resilience. We should acknowledge that unwelcome change can also open prospects for personal and social maturing. 

Individuals and society generally have the personal and collective resources to cope and accept change, to keep a balance, even when everything seems upside down. But it can be difficult. 

Helpline volunteers know this only too well, given that for 60 years they have listened to people and supported them in the most critical moments of life, in those periods when accepting or changing is crucial to restore hope and to build or re-build the future. 

For its next international congress, IFOTES proposes to reflect on these abilities, that only human beings have, to experience changes, moving between the capacity for acceptance and the desire for further transformation.

The effects of crises on emotional well-being

The past few years have been dominated by the Covid-19 pandemic. All kinds of measures have been taken to prevent the spread of the virus. Our physical integrity has been threatened. The drastic limitation of all kinds of social contact has had a major impact on the mental well-being of both young and old. And just as we started to learn to adapt and see the light at the end of the corona-tunnel, a new threat has arisen: the cruel reality of a war. Helplines have noticed a sharp increase in calls due to isolation, insecurity, fear, lack of perspective and safety.

Despite addressing the impermanence and uncertainty of these unforeseen situations, our attempts to find reassurance have not been able to totally eclipse the impact, both individual and collective, that has been endured. These crises have called into question the very meaning of life itself.

Fears are persistent and invasive. Like fog, they darken our thoughts. A safe place is needed to open up and to come to terms with the situation, a place where we can backtrack and look at our situation from another perspective and imagine other possibilities. 

Open perspectives

In Japanese the word CRISIS also contains the notion of opportunity: with uncertainty comes more interdependence and greater solidarity. 

The crises bustle around us, shaking us up, but they can also create choices, modify priorities and our way of life. 

Acceptance and change

So, acceptance is an important psychological and spiritual principle. « Acceptance » is closely related to «change ».

Carl Rogers writes, “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change”.

This capacity is not only a good way for dealing with individual problems but also with global, social challenges, such as the Covid pandemic, climate change, local and international conflicts and their consequences. 

The principles of acceptance and change in helplines

Acceptance is also a fundamental principle in telephone emergency services. Listeners in helplines try to accept and understand each person, because they believe that the caller also has the possibility of accepting their present situation and this is the first step to overcoming the consequences of any unforeseen or unexpected situation.

Helplines offer 24/7 a beneficial space where all that is needed to be said can be unconditionally welcomed. They are quiet peaceful spaces where callers can talk about anything and everything. A place for deep listening, clarity and pacification so that the possibility of new perspectives and hope can emerge, where solidarity with the victims can be expressed.

As in “Living in these trouble times », the song by Crystal Gayle (1982), our helplines are a safe place where listening is offered unconditionally and where a reassuring human presence helps to reconnect and open up new horizons.

How the theme will be addressed at the congress

With the help of experts, during the congress we will explore for example:

  • How to deal with limitations in a constructive way?
  • Can we connect with ourselves, with those around us and with new opportunities?
  • How can we be resilient?
  • What are our powers to influence?
  • What are our capabilities and our ability to change things?
  • But also, what remains? What is still the same and is safe to fall back on?
  • How can we be kind to ourselves? 

All this and more will be discussed at the IFOTES congress in Lignano Sabbiadoro – Italy, from 18 to 22 October 2023, with the hope of providing useful knowledge contents and tools to listeners and social operators in their daily listening and emotional support service to thousands of people.

Scientific Committee

Pre-congress online conference - 18 November 2022

Consequences of the pandemic and war on mental health and coping possibilities

Prof. Dr. Dora Perczel-Forintos
Dep. Clinical Psychology, Semmelweis University, Budapest

A pandemic is not just a medical phenomenon; a war is not just a political issue. It affects individuals and society and causes disruption, anxiety, stress, stigma, and xenophobia. The perspective of the presentation is to explore unusual, however effective coping strategies that can be applied on individual as well as on societal level.

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Pre-congress online conference - 18 November 2022

How listening can lead to acceptance: a model for therapeutic communication

Prof. Martin Debbané
Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, University of Geneva

A description of the characteristics of listening that echo the need to look at oneself in a way that does not stimulate so many emotions such as helplessness, shame and guilt, and thereby begin a trajectory toward acceptance and change. 

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