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The Trevor Project Expands Its AI Innovation with New “Crisis Contact Simulator” Persona to Scale Counselor Training

BY: Trevor News
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Named “Drew,” the new simulated youth persona displays a new set of life experiences and risk level and will be used alongside the existing training persona “Riley”

In addition to staff-led role-plays, “Drew” and “Riley”prepare aspiring counselors for conversations with the wide range of LGBTQ  young people who need support 

NEW YORK, NYDecember 7, 2021 – Today, The Trevor Project, the largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning (LGBTQ) young people, launched the second persona of its Crisis Contact Simulator (CCS), the organization’s proprietary, AI-powered counselor training tool that simulates digital conversations with LGBTQ youth in crisis. The Trevor Project first announced the CCS, which it developed in partnership with Google.org Fellows, in March 2021. 

The Crisis Contact Simulator was designed to help scale the organization’s volunteer counselor training program for its free, confidential, and 24/7 digital crisis services, TrevorChat and TrevorText – which it operates in addition to its 24/7 phone line, TrevorLifeline. The first-of-its-kind technology enables counselors-in-training to practice realistic conversations with digital youth personas before moving on to the next phase of role-plays led by Trevor staff.

Prior to the launch of CCS, Trevor facilitated its entire training curriculum through a structured series of human-led role-plays. Now, aspiring counselors can complete their first two role-play sessions on their own time before moving on to instructor-led role-plays, providing greater flexibility for trainees and more time for staff to reinvest in other areas of counselor growth and the training program. The human touch will always be core to Trevor’s services and ethos, so the CCS was strategically designed to streamline the rigorous training process without sacrificing essential elements of human connection and staff guidance for new counselors. Additionally, the CCS simulates text conversations that capture how young people authentically express themselves, factoring in punctuation, capitalization, and more, all of which train counselors to truly meet young people where they are.

The new persona, “Drew,” represents a person in their early 20s who lives in California and is facing harassment and bullying. Drew will be used in tandem with “Riley,” the first Crisis Contact Simulator persona that emulates messages from a teen in North Carolina who feels anxious and depressed. Each persona represents a unique life situation, background, sexual orientation, gender identity, and risk level, in order to prepare trainees to support the full scope of young people whom they might interact with. Human connection is the cornerstone of The Trevor Project’s mission, and LGBTQ young people who contact the organization will always speak to a highly trained crisis counselor.

“Starting from the first conception of the Crisis Contact Simulator two years ago, it has always been our hope to develop a variety of training role-play personas that represent the diverse experiences and intersectional identities of the LGBTQ young people we serve, each with their own stories and feelings,” said Dan Fichter, Head of AI and Engineering at The Trevor Project. “We’re excited to deploy Drew with our trainees to offer a wider variety of practice scenarios and narratives, which will better prepare them to connect with any young person in a moment of crisis when the time comes.” 

Since implementing the Crisis Contact Simulator earlier this year, The Trevor Project has been able to train more than 1,000 counselors with the tool – supporting its goal to scale the digital volunteer counselor base. With the launch of Drew, in addition to other technology innovations and program developments, the organization is steadily increasing its counselor count to ultimately serve a higher volume of LGBTQ young people in crisis.

“We’ve learned that when used responsibly, technology solutions can unlock incredible power to help us scale our crisis services and reach more LGBTQ young people who need us,” said Amit Paley, CEO & Executive Director of The Trevor Project. “This project is a perfect example of how we can leverage industry gold-standard technology innovations and apply them to our own life-saving work. I’m so proud of our dynamic technology team for developing tools that directly support our mission, while also creating a new paradigm that can set an example for other mental health and crisis services organizations.” 

The Crisis Contact Simulator model and its first persona “Riley” were developed in partnership with Google.org as part of the Google AI Impact Challenge, which included $2.7 million in grants and the support of nearly 30 Google.org Fellows who worked alongside The Trevor Project’s staff. In addition to the Crisis Contact Simulator, the collaboration also resulted in an AI-powered Risk Assessment model, which helps The Trevor Project assess suicide risk and facilitates connections between the highest-risk youth and a crisis counselor more quickly. The Trevor Project took learnings from its Google.org partnership and developed “Drew” on their own.

The organization currently employs a technology team of more than 30 full-time staff dedicated to product development, AI and machine learning, engineering, UX, and technology operations. Looking ahead, The Trevor Project intends to continue exploring technology applications to grow its impact by investing in new tools to scale. 

About The Trevor Project

The Trevor Project is the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning (LGBTQ) young people. The Trevor Project offers a suite of 24/7 crisis intervention and suicide prevention programs, including TrevorLifeline, TrevorText, and TrevorChat as well as the world’s largest safe space social networking site for LGBTQ youth, TrevorSpace. Trevor also operates an education program with resources for youth-serving adults and organizations, an advocacy department fighting for pro-LGBTQ legislation and against anti-LGBTQ rhetoric/policy positions, and a research team to discover the most effective means to help young LGBTQ people in crisis and end suicide.

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Jackson Budinger
Senior Communications Manager
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