Helpline offers English support, no matter the problem

Paris-based SOS Helpline has been offering a friendly ear to English speakers in France for 40 years

23 October 2017
By Jane Hanks

For more than 40 years, SOS Helpline has offered an emotional support telephone line in English to the international community in France.

Available for anyone going through a difficult experience and who would like to talk it through with a sympathetic, trained volunteer listener, calls to the helpline are confidential and anonymous.

The service is Paris-based but welcomes calls from anyone, anywhere in the country, every day of the year including bank holidays, from 15.00 to 23.00 and receives 5,000 calls a year.

The calls can come from callers with wide-ranging issues such as loneliness, depression, health concerns, bereavement, money problems, unemployment, difficulties with friends or family, or substance abuse. 

Publicity officer Christine Payne says talking to someone who is there to listen can be a big help: “When there is something bothering you, it is always beneficial to be able to express yourself and sometimes that is easiest when you talk to someone who is in no way connected to you.

“Often the caller knows what they should do in their situation, but it makes it easier when they can say it out loud.

“One volunteer likened it to having a load of washing mixed up and in knots inside your head and when you start to talk, it is like teasing the washing out of the machine and unravelling it piece by piece.”

The listeners are trained to be non-judgemental and are there to give callers support. They will not make decisions for the people or give opinions about any decisions. They will not share anything the caller says with other listeners beyond the confidential listening team.

They also have a list of different organisations to offer to the caller if they wish to seek further help.

The association always welcomes new volunteers, as there is a high turnover due to the fact that many of them are only in Paris short-term for work.

There are two intakes for volunteer listeners every year and they are trained by a psychologist.

One volunteer listener, who has not given his name to respect the confidentiality of the service, told Connexion it was not always easy: “Offering false hopes that soon things will get better is unkind and unfair regardless of our best intentions. More often than not, improvements are not near for the caller.

“The better offer is to lend an ear so the callers can express their true emotions and feelings about their circumstances.

“Being heard and having their feelings acknowledged can provide temporary comfort in itself.”

SOS Helpline ( also raises funds, in particular to pay for training sessions, with twice-yearly book sales. It is a free and confidential service. You can call the helpline on 01 46 21 46 46 all year round.

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