The Five Essentials of Helping a Troubled Friend

The Five Essentials of Helping a Troubled Friend

We have all experienced being close to someone going through difficult times. One of the most painful experiences apart from our own misfortunes is that of seeing a person dear to us facing hardship. Instinctively we try to comfort them and make them feel better. It is common to resort to certain phrases to express our support and compassion. These include: "I’m so sorry,” “Poor you”, “It could be much worse”, or “It’s bound to get better”. When our clumsy attempts to cheer up the troubled person don’t seem to work, we can feel defeated by our ineptitude. Researchers at the University of Louisville have shown that it’s not what we intend to do but how we do it that makes the difference. They identified four distinct behaviours of those who are attempting to help others. The first two – providing encouragement and helping to resolve the issue – are more effective than the other two – minimising the problem, discounting the situation and providing distractions. Here are five essential tactics for helping a person in need:

Be there for the person. Staying at someone's side can be helpful, so long as your presence is not intrusive. If you cannot be there physically, telephone your friend, email or text, and stay in touch. Be available. This could mean a huge amount to your friend.

Actively listen. Encourage the person to share thoughts and feelings if he or she wishes. Don’t interrupt. Don’t judge. Remain calm. Don’t regale the person with your own stories. Let the person reduce the negativity they have been feeling. Often, expressing hurt is the first step to feeling better.

Don’t give your opinions. Be careful about sharing your views with someone you are trying to help. This is about the other person – not you. Instead, listen and show interest, enabling your friend to arrive at a solution or make progress with solving the problem. Questions can help the person, such as “In what way was this important to you?”; “What do you need now?”, or even “How can I help?”

Don’t feel you must advise. Even if you believe you have had similar experiences, everyone has unique reactions to events. So your friend will not appreciate hearing about how sorted out your own difficulties. Instead of advising, you can reinforce any signs of positive thinking and resilience in your friend.

Keep positive. When trying to help someone who has negativity it’s important to show empathy but also to stay strong and remain in a positive frame of mind yourself. You may need to disengage yourself mentally, so as not to travel down a spiral of negativity yourself, becoming no help to your friend or to yourself.

Do you agree with these tips? What has worked for you? If this is a subject about which you would like to learn more, to enhance your career or just be a great helper, why not consider the range of counselling courses that are provided by the Academy?

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