Supporting those who support others
Seeing a loved one self-destruct or suffer can be heart-breaking.
Feelings of helplessness and wanting to rescue them can be overwhelming.
I get many enquires on behalf of people and I can truly understand that sentiment of wanting to help and alleviate suffering.
You may have experience of counselling yourself, or think that the person could benefit from seeing a counsellor. You may well be right.
It’s important to understand that you can’t book an appointment on behalf of someone:
- they need to know they are coming,
- they need to know they want me as their counsellor and
- they need to want to address their concerns or issues.
You may see their issues on a daily basis and it may be very plain to see for you that there are problems- this may not be the case for them; they may not want to change, or see a reason to fix how they feel.
So, what can you do if they don’t admit they are struggling or have a problem?
- You can call the Samaritans and describe the symptoms you are observing- they can suggest ways to support that individual and also offer a space for you to offload about your concerns.
- If you’ve had mental concerns in the past or worked with service users in a care capacity then you’ll likely have more than the basic knowledge and be able to have a fair idea of what the problem is; consider if there are any behaviours causing you to worry about there safety or their daily functioning.
- You can make a list of your observations and check to see if things are deteriorating over time; you may see some patterns or you may realise that the behaviours have stopped naturally.
- Be aware that if the person is facing death, bereavement or depression for example, then the path is bumpy and rocky and there may be more bad days than good days for some periods of time:
- Look for what seems abnormal in so much as what is becoming completely out of character; and
- Are they aware they are doing it? It can be simple things like neglecting basic hygiene right through to more major things such as regular forgetfulness, oversleeping or insomnia, severe lack of motivation, getting stuck in progressive and consuming worry/fear or indulging in risky behaviours.
- Don’t be quick to label grief or bereavement as ‘going on for too long,’ it’s different for everyone, so being sensitive about your choice of language can help people feel accepted in their time of grief.
- Suggest they make an appointment for a check-up with their GP if they haven’t been for a while and appear to be struggling, but don’t force the issue.
- If socialising has stopped where once it was regular, suggest getting out with friends or family where possible, or see if their regular groups are online or are meeting under social distancing.
- If mood swings are apparent and their patience is wearing thin over trivial events then this could be a sign that things are getting on top of them. Small gestures of kindness, respecting their wishes and helping if they clearly need help are all things that can assist someone to feel comfort. Some people aren’t good at asking for help, so don’t assume that silence is a sign nothing is wrong.
When they do admit to having a problem but feel unsure/ scared/ frightened about what to do next:
- You’ll need compassion skills here; you may have an overwhelming urge to share how they have been making you feel- please resist this. They just opened up and admitted things are not OK, if you replace their problems and concerns with your own then they won’t feel heard.
Listen, just simply listen and don’t interrupt. Wait for them to finish what they need and want to share with you.
- If they are willing to speak with their GP then offering to go with them can be a strong sign of your intention to support them, if they would like you to be there.
- Ask when you need clarification, please don’t assume that you know how they are feeling- it may change minute to minute or it may change weekly/ monthly.
- If the person struggling feels overwhelmed then that can stop them taking action- with depression and anxiety for instance, being presented with too many choices can be very daunting and increase anxiety symptoms. Try to present information clearly and with clarity; any ambiguous information may prevent a choice being made, for example:
‘I’ve been researching anti-depressants, there are potentially 4 you could try, but look at all these side-effects. Do you think medication is right for you?’
This is information over-load. If the person has come as far as deciding they want to try medication then please don’t put your own judgement on that decision. Yes, there are many available and yes, they have side-effects but focusing on these aspects is likely to prevent the person from taking a step towards helping themselves. It is their choice and their GP can help them decide.
Similarly, presenting them with 5 online counsellors’ profiles from the local area for the person to choose from, may also be too much too soon. Acknowledging counselling is an option is a healthier conversation than assuming they want an online service and assuming they want a local counsellor.
It’s a delicate time whether they decide to ask for help or if they simply cannot see where they are right now.
Your own well-being is also very important.
If you are struggling with watching a loved one suffer then that may also affect how you think and feel; many of the tips above are useful to assess your own well-being. If you are unable to help someone because they refuse it or feel they don’t need it and it’s taking it’s toll on you, then please hit the contact button to discuss how counselling can support you.