Counselling a Friend
You should never counsel your family or friends as you can’t be objective in a close relationship. However, you can offer support and be there for them when they need to unload and are looking for a friend. So what are some tips that can help you with this?
1) Encourage them to talk; ask them what’s on their mind - If you think your friend’s depressed or is bottling something up don’t pretend you haven’t noticed … ask if something’s bothering them. And unless you get the sense that they don’t want to talk, be persistent and keep asking in a gentle, caring way. This will send the clear message that you genuinely care.
2) Give your full attention and listen carefully – If your friend is brave enough to share what’s really bothering them, then give them the respect of listening carefully – without interrupting or offering them advice. Pay close attention and focus, and try to understand their perspective on their problems, and how that makes them feel. The only time you should speak is to clarify a point, or to ask open questions that will help them unload more. Also, encourage them to talk through your use of body language – such as nodding while they’re talking and sitting very still. Never fidget, look around or get distracted while they’re speaking – as that sends the message that you’re losing interest fast.
3) Unless specifically requested, don’t offer them advice - Once you’ve got the gist of what’s happening with your friend, resist the instinct to give them some advice. This is often very hard as we usually want to help … but most people resent this – they just want to be heard. Instead, the best way forward is to keep on asking questions to help them find solutions to their problems for themselves.
4) Remember it’s all about them; it’s not about you – Most people want to somehow turn the conversation round to talking about them, and their own experiences. This is so annoying; it’s the worst thing you could do. You are meant to be focused on your friend’s experiences!
Question of the day: what do you know about sleep paralysis? It leaves me feeling very afraid and vulnerable and is always unexpected. I wonder if it is linked to atypical depression which is indicated by my excessive sleeping and general melancholy as well as a few other symptoms. Is there a cure or method of preventing it?
It’s Good to Talk
Some think that talking is a total waste of time; that it’s just hot air that leads nowhere in the end. But counsellors would argue that talking really helps. The reasons for this are summarised below:
1. Talking is cathartic: Often we feel empty, worn out or overwhelmed. We’re uptight, tense and emotionally drained. We’re trapped by our painful experiences in life – and we don’t know what to do to get some temporary relief. At times like this, just expressing how we feel – the raw emotion and that sense of being stuck - can be extremely cathartic, and ease some of the pain.
2. Feeling heard and understood is therapeutic: When someone truly listens, and we sense it’s genuine, the pain starts to ease and the old wounds start to heal. We don’t feel so abandoned, rejected or alone.
3. Talking helps us find new solutions to our problems: As we talk about our problems, we find that we express information and ideas that we hadn’t voiced before. And as we hear ourselves speak, these new thoughts start making sense … And often new solutions will pop into our head!
4. Identifying self-talk can free us from old habits: Often we don’t notice how negative we are, and the way entrenched beliefs holds us back, and keeps us trapped. But once we start to see the way we talk about ourselves, we can challenge our self-talk, and start to be more positive. That changes how we feel – and how we act as well.
5 Things a Counsellor Should Never Say
1. “I know how you feel.”
- No-one really knows how another person feels.
- It sound patronizing and lacking in empathy.
- It limits exploration of the client’s feelings, and understanding more fully how things appear to them.
2. “It will be all right.”
- How do you know that it will be all right? Your assumptions could be totally wrong.
- It sounds superficial and insincere, and is lacking in compassion and empathy.
- It sends the message that you don’t want to listen any longer – so the client is prevented from working through their pain.
3. “If I were you I would …”
- It isn’t about the counsellor; it is all about the client and what will work for them.
- It minimizes how complex and difficult this is … and sends the message that problem is fairly trivial.
- Counselling is NOT about giving advice. The aim is “to explore to better understand” and then helping the client to choose what they will do.
4. “You should have/ you shouldn’t have …”
- The counsellor should be non-judgmental and accepting. Yet this is both judgmental and super critical.
- It is subtly guilt-tripping the client for their choice – and they don’t have to please or explain themselves to you.
- It limits problem-solving and dis-empowers the client.
5. “Wow. That’s terrible!”
- A comment like this can keep the client stuck as they now feel bogged down by “how awful things are.
- It frames the client as a victim and takes away their power.
- It keeps the focus on the past, and helps the client escape from their current and their future responsibilities.
— Shannon Hale (via onlinecounsellingcollege)