IMAlive:Frequently Asked Questions
How it Works

What is IMAlive?

IMAlive is the world’s first virtual crisis center. It’s also the first online crisis service with 100% of its supervised volunteers trained in crisis intervention. Our volunteers provide crisis intervention to people in crisis online and empower them to take the necessary next steps to address their situation.

If I am in crisis and chat with someone on IMAlive, who is on the other end?

The volunteers who respond to IMAlive chats are caring people who want to make a difference. IMALIVE Volunteers have received a minimum of 40 hours of training in crisis intervention and are supported by a team of supersvisors who have demonstrated advanced intervention skills.

Who are the Volunteers at IMAlive?

Volunteers at IMAlive range in age from 18 to 80+ live all over the United States, Canada, the UK, Australia, Europe, etc. They are a diverse group with a diverse range of backgrounds, interests, and occupations. What they have in common is a desire to empower those in crisis to take the additional steps to resolve their crisis.

How does crisis intervention work?

Crisis intervention is a structured, collaborative process that accepts the value of each individual and respects the person’s ability to survive and resolve their current situation. While crisis intervention is not counseling or a substitute for counseling, with the help of an IMAlive volunteer a person in crisis can develop a plan to change things for the better and take the needed first steps. The goal is to help the person in crisis explore options that can lead to thinking about the next steps. We do not offer therapy or advice but help people lower their anxiety and find their own solutions. Volunteers also provide referrals for other hotlines and other community programs and services.

Becoming a Volunteer

What will I be doing as a volunteer?

As a volunteer, you will provide acceptance, empathy, and respect to those in crisis in order to lower their anxiety and facilitate their innate coping skills. You will also help people in crisis to identify self-destructive behaviors or suicidal ideation and adopt more appropriate behaviors. As a means of helping people you will provide referrals and information about community programs and resources. You will need a personal computer and high-speed broadband internet connection during your time volunteering with us. Tablets/iPads, as well as cellular phones/devices, are not permitted as they do not allow for a reliable Internet connection required for volunteering.

Why is there a fee?

All IMAlive volunteers responding to people in crisis are required to complete the HEART and become certified competent as a crisis responder. HEART is a suicide prevention and crisis intervention training. The training fee covers the cost of the HEART course and accompanying materials, the remote supervisory support available to those taking the course, the facilitated supervisory support during the competency certification process, and training on the IMAlive chat platform in preparation for taking live shifts. The competency of those volunteers who have taken the course and are currently providing crisis support speaks to the value of the training.

What is the online training like?

The HEART course is an online video course* and takes approximately 10 hours. You can learn at your own pace and in your own home. Each video module is 20-60 minutes long and ends with an online quiz. *We ask you to complete all the video modules and quizzes within thirty (30) days.

After you complete HEART, pass the welcome interview, and background check, you will be invited to take a tour of the online crisis chat platform. You will need to attend approximately 20 hours of online pre-scheduled practice chats (there is a variety of times available in different time zones). This part of the training includes many opportunities to watch other volunteers and supervisors do role-plays online, but the key is active participation and willingness to receive feedback. We ask you to complete all necessary practice chats within 4-6 weeks.

At the end of HEART and practice chats, the applicant will have demonstrated their responder skill and will be moved forward for their HEART Final Exam. Each volunteer will be accompanied by our supervisors who help them through training and into live shifts.

Ongoing communication with the Supervisor via email, Skype, or phone is extremely important! After successfully passing the HEART Final Exam, an IMAlive Volunteer will attend weekly 2-hour online shifts and respond to live chats from people reaching out for help. The initial time commitment is 200 volunteer hours in the first year. IMAlive supervisors are available during each shift to offer additional guidance if needed.

Do I need prior experience to become an IMAlive volunteer?

You do not need prior experience to become a volunteer. The crisis intervention process is a special way of helping that requires we refrain from giving advice or “fixing” situations. We look for individuals who are able to offer those who contact us unconditional positive regard, acceptance, and empathy. We are more concerned about attitude, a willingness to learn a new way of helping. We are looking for volunteer applicants who are:
– self-motivated
– are open to feedback and make appropriate changes based on it
– disciplined
– empathic
– non-judgmental
– insightful
– committed to the mission of IMAlive
– have at least 4 hours a week available for training, practice and eventually providing online support (if you are traveling, on vacation or need to take some time off, we do have flexible scheduling available)
– ready to commit to at least 200 hours of online support over a one year period
The online crisis intervention training will prepare you to confidently respond to others in crisis and protect those who are engaging in self-destructive behaviors. As you learn the skills to become a crisis intervention responder the IMAlive supervisors will always be there to help you with any questions or challenges you might have.

What steps do IMAlive volunteer applicants go through?

You start your volunteer application by filling out your IMAlive profile. Click Register on top of this page to start a volunteer application. All volunteer applications go through a thorough internal review. The steps to becoming an IMAlive responder are:

– Create an Initial IMAlive Profile
– Complete of IMAlive Commitment Form
– Review of Volunteer Application
– Create a fundraising profile* (or upfront payment for the course)
– Complete of the HEART course
– Complete an interview with an IMAlive supervisor to help us learn more about you as a potential volunteer and to answer any questions you might have about the online volunteering process
– Background check* ($20 for US citizens, $45 for Canadian citizens (this fee is not included in the $250 training fee. For other countries, please ask for a quote)
– Training in the use of the IMAlive chat platform
– Practice chats with other volunteers and supervisor review in preparation for competency certification
– Final Competency Certification HEART Exam and competency certification
– Schedule a shift to take live chats and implement what you have learned!
* The background check fee and the $250 training fee are tax-deductible and are non-refundable.

Can I work at my own pace to complete the HEART course? Or is there a time frame in which it needs to be completed?

The independent online learning segment of the Helping Empathically As Responders Training (HEART) course typically takes approximately 10 hours to complete. To become an IMAlive volunteer, you will be required to finish the course in no more than 30 days. As each successive module of the course builds upon previous modules, it has been our experience that those potential volunteers who complete the training within a few days are best prepared to move on to practice chats and the HEART Final Exam. The Volunteer Coordinator will contact you periodically during this period to track your progress. If you have any problems completing the training, or questions about continuing, feel free to contact us so we can set you on the right path.

Once the online segment of the course is completed, volunteers test their skills in practice chats with their peers and a supervisor to prepare themselves for the HEART Final Exam. IMAlive limits the progression from preparatory practice chats through passing the HEART Final Exam within four to six weeks as we have seen this produces the best results for our potential volunteers. As with the initial training, the Volunteer Coordinator will be contacting you periodically to track your progress and you will be encouraged to contact us with any questions you may have.

How much does the training cost?

Online training for volunteers costs $250 USD. This includes the HEART course and support, facilitated practice sessions with other volunteers and supervisors, and the HEART Final Competency Exam. In addition, volunteers are expected to fulfill the 200-hour commitment and cover the cost of a background check. We understand that the price can be a deal-breaker for many, which is why each volunteer creates a fundraising page at and is able to ask their friends, family, and visitors to the IMAlive website for help fundraising. Just like with any other online class, once you pay for the training, if you decide in the middle of the training or after you finish the HEART course that you do not want to continue or you are not able to continue due to a variety of reasons, the training fee is non-refundable.

I already have a degree, certification, or related training. Do I still need to take the course?

Yes, you still need to complete HEART and become certified competent by our program. This ensures that all of our volunteers have attained the same level of competency and that those who reach out to us receive services in a consistent manner.

Can I pay for the training in installments, or does all $250 have to paid at once?

Unfortunately, at this time we cannot offer payment plans for the training. However, if you are unable to pay for the $250 cost, your IMAlive profile will allow you to ask your friends, family members, and site visitors to sponsor you through the training.

Does IMAlive welcome volunteers from outside the US?

Yes. Our team includes volunteers from over 30 countries.

Providing Online Support

How often will I have to volunteer?

IMAlive volunteers commit to volunteering twice a week (two 2-hour shifts per week) until they reach 200 hours in the first year. Many volunteers stay with IMALIVE until they reach 300-400 hours or more.

Are they the same shifts every week?

They can be the same or different each week – you choose.

What type of chats do IMALIVE Volunteer answer?

People will most likely contact IMAlive because they need information about how to get help, have questions about where to turn next, or just someone to listen at one of the most difficult times in their life. It can take people up to two years of interaction with a professional mental health worker to feel comfortable saying things that they will confide to an IMAlive volunteer right away. That volunteer can be you–and even though the experience can be stressful, knowing you’ve been able to lend a hand in a crisis is one of the most rewarding experiences imaginable.

What shift times are available?

IMAlive shifts are available 24/7. You will be able to choose a 2-hour time period of your preference.

Do I get to choose which hours I volunteer?

Yes. If you are unable to volunteer during a shift for which you’ve already registered, please make sure to let a supervisor know. In many cases, you will be able to trade your shift with another volunteer or reschedule your shift for another time that week.

Additional Questions

Where else can this training be applied outside of IMAlive?

The training is valuable not only in responding to crisis situations but also in your daily life. Whether you are supporting a loved one or a friend going through a difficult time, or want to learn how to be a better listener, becoming an IMALIVE Volunteer will make you the best-equipped crisis intervention responder in history of online volunteering.