In the 1980s, a team of researchers from Harvard University did a study of people in crisis and concluded that how we cope is not necessarily determined by our character or inner strength. What is most important in a time of crisis is the kind of help we get from other people.
Chances are most hurting people do not go first to a professional counselor, but begin by talking with friends, family members and sometimes co-workers.
If you are one of those people who others want to talk with when troubled, I offer you some suggestions you may find helpful.
It is NOT to be used with people who have major psychological problems.
If you believe someone is mentally ill, is likely to harm him or herself or another, or if the person has been a victim of abuse or trauma, it is important to help the individual find a trained professional and you remain a support system.
However, if someone comes to you who needs help with an easily identified problem, there are some simple questions that may help a person think through the situation and take responsibility for his or her own actions.
Your job as a friend is to help sort out solutions, not to provide them with answers.
Too often we say: Gee, that's too bad; now, now, everything is going to be all right; don't cry; don't worry; hang in there. None of which will hurt anyone if all they want is sympathy.
But if you think the person really wants help, try this simple, easy-to-follow process.
Here are the questions:
• What do you want for you?
• What are you feeling?
• What are you doing to get what you want?
Some follow-up questions might be:
• Will you do it?
• When will you do it?
• How will you do it?
• Will you let me know how it goes?
Your role is to take this person seriously, treat him or her tenderly and listen.
Charlotte Lankard is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.