History active listening


Active listening volunteers at Nightline


4 principles of active listening

Four Principles

Nightline Paris began with one student and a realisation: in September 2016, when Patrick Skehan arrived in Paris for his studies, he was struck by the absence of structures dedicated to student mental health. Coming from Ireland, where student listening services have existed for more than two decades, this was problematic, especially given that the services that students do use in France are so often over-subscribed.

The idea began to grow to create a listening service based on the Anglo-Saxon model: a charity run by students, volunteers trained in active listening, four guiding principles and the possibility to contact the service by phone or by chat. In order to launch the project, Patrick turned towards the Student Projects Initiative at PSL Research University, which would become the main platform and support system for Nightline over the coming two years. At the same time, links began to be formed with other partners: school psychologists and psychiatrists, the Mayor’s Office of Paris and French listening services, such as Suicide Écoute. The financing obtained from our partnership with PSL and its constituent establishments allowed Nightline to buy the equipment needed and train its first volunteers.

In November 2017, after a second wave of recruitment and training, the listening service opened to students with volunteers taking calls in an office supplied by PSL. A group of around thirty volunteers took shifts on different evenings, while the charity began to gradually establish itself and create new partnerships so as to increase the number of students familiar with the service. Since this point, we have increased our presence in partner universities and schools, notably by organising communication campaigns and informational stands about our work. We have also participated in public events, with a presence at the Soliday’s music festival in June 2018.

The 2018/2019 academic year is set to see a lot of changes in the way Nightline works and its exposure to students. Following the signature of a number of partnerships with universities and schools, the service will now be directly available to more than 100,000 Parisian students. Students who are not in one of our partner establishments will have the opportunity to meet us and learn about the service through initiatives undertaken with the Mayor’s Office of Paris and the CROUS housing service. Finally, we will be returning to our roots with the opening of an English-speaking line in November, in collaboration with the Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris, so as to provide international students in France with greater support.

From undergraduate to doctorate students, from universities to journalism schools, Nightline’s volunteers come from many different backgrounds. After an initial contact period, they follow two weekends of intensive training in active listening. This training prepares them to deal with difficult subjects and respect our four principles, while also giving their full attention to callers.

Volunteers are not chosen based on previous experience but on their capacity to understand and accept others. While they come from diverse backgrounds, they are all students or recent students, and we believe that this helps them to better understand and discuss the problems related to student life. One of Nightline’s four principles is anonymity – because of this, our volunteers are not allowed talk about their participation in our work.

Some volunteers who are no longer able to take calls decide to transition to others roles within the charity. They may become one of our Public Faces, which gives them the opportunity to go meet students and present our service on Nightline’s behalf.

The active listening service of Nightline Paris is organised around four main principles that we share with the other Nightlines as well as the majority of large active listening services around the world. These four principles are:


Anonymity. The identity of the caller remains secret throughout the entirety of the call and following it, and we take a number of measures to ensure that this remains the case. No identifying information is requested of the caller and the volunteers are encouraged to remind callers of this principle if they give too much detail about their personal situation. Similarly, the identity of the volunteers who take calls is also kept secret. Finally, the risk of identifying a caller or volunteer by the sound of their voice is often largely over-estimated, being almost unheard of in practice.


Confidentiality. Everything that the caller says remains between the volunteer and the caller. Calls and chats are not saved. Confidentiality acts as an extra guarantee to callers, in addition to anonymity, and allows for the creation of a safe space where callers can speak openly and a relationship of confidence can be established.


A non-directive service. Volunteer listeners are never directive during calls. They are not there to force the conversation in a certain direction or to categorise individual experiences. The callers remain in control of the conversation and what they would like to discuss. In addition, the volunteer listeners don’t give advice or “solutions” to callers – they are there to listen, while helping callers to express their feelings and develop reflexions about their situation. Volunteers don’t have the knowledge or the information necessary to advise callers, as they are not medical professionals.


Non-judgmental. Volunteers are not here to judge callers, their decisions or their experiences. They try to create an open and welcoming space so that callers can express themselves without fearing a negative reaction. Nothing is taboo to discuss, volunteers are capable of dealing with a variety of subjects and they do not class certain calls as more important than others.