The Trevor Project Launches New AI Tool To Support Crisis Counselor Training
Developed in collaboration with Google.org, the first-of-its-kind “Crisis Contact Simulator” will help train counselors and prepare them to support youth in crisis
Life-saving nonprofit builds on years of innovation to triple its digital volunteer crisis counselors in 2021
The Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning (LGBTQ) young people, launched its “Crisis Contact Simulator,” a proprietary, AI-powered counselor training tool that simulates digital conversations with LGBTQ youth in crisis.
The Crisis Contact Simulator is a new component of the organization’s counselor training program for its free, confidential, and 24/7 digital crisis services, TrevorChat and TrevorText. Trainees learn about counseling skills, LGBTQ identity, and more, and complete a number of role-plays to prepare them to speak with youth in crisis. In addition to participating in role-plays with staff instructors, trainees complete digital role-play conversations with the Crisis Contact Simulator.
“We’re excited to incorporate the Crisis Contact Simulator into our counselor training program to prepare counselors to support youth through moments of crisis,” said Dan Fichter, Head of AI and Engineering at The Trevor Project. “Our Crisis Contact Simulator can engage in a prolonged back-and-forth dialogue with trainees and can use language in the same way people do, including language LGBTQ youth often use to describe their experiences and emotions. The simulator maintains a consistent emotional and experiential narrative in talking about real-life feelings and situations.”
The first-of-its-kind tool allows trainees to practice realistic conversations with youth personas. “Riley,” the first Crisis Contact Simulator persona, emulates messages from a teen in North Carolina who feels anxious and depressed. In addition to Riley, the organization is currently developing a variety of personas that represent a wide range of life situations, backgrounds, sexual orientations, gender identities, and risk levels.
The Trevor Project currently has more than 700 digital volunteer crisis counselors in total and trains a new counselor cohort each month. In the U.S. alone, the organization estimates more than 1.8 million LGBTQ youth seriously consider suicide each year, and at least one LGBTQ young person (13-24) attempts suicide every 45 seconds. The Trevor Project aims to triple its digital volunteer crisis counselors in 2021, and eventually grow the pool by 10x – significantly increasing the number of LGBTQ youth served each year. LGBTQ young people who contact The Trevor Project will always speak to a highly trained human crisis counselor, available 24/7 and for free.
“Technology and AI are critical tools to empower the special person-to-person connections between our crisis counselors and LGBTQ youth,” said Amit Paley, CEO & Executive Director of The Trevor Project. “We also know that nearly 70% of our digital crisis counselors volunteer on nights and weekends, indicating a need for more training options outside of typical business hours. Adding the Crisis Contact Simulator into our counselor training program offers significant flexibility for our trainees, which creates a better experience for our volunteers and enables us to scale our crisis services to reach even more LGBTQ young people in crisis.”
Developed by The Trevor Project’s AI, engineering, and product team, the Crisis Contact Simulator is the culmination of the organization’s multi-year collaboration with Google.org through the Google AI Impact Challenge. The collaboration included $2.7 million in grants and the support of nearly 30 Google.org Fellows who worked alongside The Trevor Project’s staff to introduce machine learning and natural language processing into The Trevor Project’s platforms. In addition to the Crisis Contact Simulator, the collaboration also resulted in an AI-powered Risk Assessment tool, which helps the organization assess suicide risk and facilitates connections between the highest risk youth and a crisis counselor more quickly.
“The Trevor Project’s mission sits at the heart of what Google.org stands for: solving society’s biggest challenges through technology and innovation,” said Jen Carter, Global Head of Technology and Volunteering at Google.org. “Through funding and support from our Google.org Fellows, we’ve seen first-hand how a human-centered approach to technology can help those in their most critical time of need, and I hope that the Crisis Contact Simulator is a model that other crisis and front-line public health organizations adopt in the future to support their training methods.”
The Crisis Contact Simulator will allow staff to focus their time on training even more volunteers and improving the training experience with regular training updates. In addition to the Crisis Contact Simulator and Risk Assessment tools, the organization continues to scale its operations and grow its impact by innovating its crisis services and making strategic investments in staff, technology, and infrastructure.
Paley continued, “When I joined The Trevor Project as CEO and Executive Director in 2017, after serving as a volunteer Lifeline counselor for years, I sought to improve our technology platforms to further our mission to end suicide among LGBTQ young people. Through the tireless efforts of our growing teams and our unique partnerships over the last few years, I’m proud to say that our technology infrastructure is more sophisticated than ever before and a key part of the reason we are helping far more LGBTQ youth than ever before.”