One of the most pressing concerns for many helpline staff is how to manage overt forms of distress and anxiety manifest in ‘troubles talk’, while also encouraging (or ‘empowering’) callers to take action to change the conditions that are creating the distress. Based on an audio-recording of a single call to a Home Birth helpline (drawn from a corpus of 80 such calls), we use conversation analysis to explore how the call-taker negotiates the tension between managing the caller’s distress about her scheduled hospital labour (the ‘presenting problem’), while also encouraging her to arrange a home birth (the ‘problem solution’). We focus on the work the call-taker does to position herself as troubles-talk recipient, while also ensuring that by the end of the encounter the caller has received the information and advice she needs to take action to organise her home birth.
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