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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Businessman with No Training Runs Crisis Hotline as a Hobby

Crisis hotlines offering free counseling services are few and far, and this has led at least one Moscow businessman to open a line to his cell phone. Never mind that he has no psychological training.

Alexei Lyubchenko, 33, said he opened the hotline -- the only one in Moscow that is widely advertised on the Internet -- as a hobby four years ago.

"I've had enough living just for myself and wanted to be of help for others," he said.

A 1998 Health Ministry regulation, however, specifies that only specially trained people can field calls on crisis lines. "You must either have a higher education in psychology, or 10 months of practice on a crisis line combined with simultaneous training," said Olga Gorelova, a psychologist at a municipal crisis center in St. Petersburg's Petrodvorets district.

"It goes without saying that you can't just create a crisis line whenever you wish," she added.

Lyubchenko said he knew nothing of the Health Ministry's regulation.

"If there aren't enough licensed specialists, what is to be done? It's next to impossible to call through an ordinary crisis line. I tried once," he said. "I just want to help people. But if they tell me I am doing something wrong, I'll stop."

The regulation does not spell out any fines or other penalties for violators. The Criminal Code does not envisage any punishment for delivering psychological services without a license, while the Civil Code imposes a fine of 22,000 to 27,500 rubles for "activities connected to private medical practice" without a license.

Health officials could not be reached for immediate comment Thursday.

Lyubchenko said most calls came from young women who have been dumped by their boyfriends, and that queries from people who wanted to commit suicide were rare.

Lyubchenko's crisis line is also advertised on the Internet as a contact number for a religious sect, a funeral services bureau and a company offering furniture cushion services. Lyubchenko said the funeral and furniture services were his businesses, while the psychological consultations and the sect were his hobbies.