While much has been written about the stigma facing those who are seeking mental health, as well as ways to communicate acceptance and understanding, there is still not much out there in terms of support and resources for those of us who want to help our loved ones who need help. Our aim at Therapy Hive is to make the process easier – we help providers focus on their passion and calling, helping others. We also help clients and potential patients find the right help, and the right support.
If a friend or loved one comes to you for help, the first step is to recognize the effort. While there are certainly people who have no qualms about outlining their difficulties and suffering, most individuals are private and struggle to admit that they are struggling. Acknowledge how hard it is to open up, and express gratitude that you are the one they opened up to. This is important even if the predominant feeling is not gratitude, but worry – feelings tend to be contagious, and if you react from a place of fear or worry, it might make your loved one clam right back up. “Thank you for telling me.” “I can’t imagine how hard it was for you to come to me,” and you might even add, “what do you need me to do right now?” While it is likely overwhelming to put everything back on the person, such as, “What can I do to help?” it will be mutually beneficial to have direct instructions on how you should be responding. This is particularly helpful for two people who have different ways for receiving care – a hug might not mean as much to someone who is averse to physical contact, for example.
Likely, the answer you will receive is that they need someone to listen. It can be very difficult to listen, especially if we feel like something is wrong – our instinct is to fix it! It will likely feel shaming, or judgmental, to start running through the checklist of “shoulds.” “Well, you should talk to your doctor.” “Should we call your parents?” “You should try exercise.” If a person wants specific recommendations, they will ask. Otherwise, pay attention to what your loved one is saying.
Respond empathically. This type of communication helps to extend communication and trust, and minimizes any unintentional judgments. One type of empathic response is to use “reflective listening,” in which you are simply reflecting the emotion and content that was shared. “When you lost your job and Steven moved out, it felt overwhelming. I can see that you are really feeling low.”
Remember to focus on your loved one. Humans love to talk about themselves – and when someone is sharing something deeply personal, we have a tendency to want to reciprocate and disclose in turn. This is not the conversation for that. As tempted as you may be to explore your own depression episode, job loss, or relationship end, it can feel invalidating and can actually turn a person away from trust if they feel that you are too focused on your own personal experience.
Encourage treatment. The one exception to the above rule is if you want to share your therapists’ name, or your positive experience in therapy. Again, the focus is on the other person, but it can feel so daunting and isolating to ask for professional help, that it helps to know that someone was there before you. “Therapy really helped me when I went through my breakup. Let me know if you want the name of my therapist.” Otherwise, encourage your friend to turn to a resource, like Therapy Hive. Remember, the relationship between therapist and patient is the best predictor of success, so encourage your friend to make their own phone calls / emails / and appointments to find their own provider.