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What can you do when someone you love has a problem?

You could give them your advice, maybe you could tell them how to fix it – and there is no doubting that, sometimes, that is what your someone would like from you. But what about those other times? Those times when they know what to do, they know how to fix it, but they have this other problem … it is hard, maybe even impossible, for them to do, right now. What then?

Sometimes, the problem is simply in grasping the nettle, is in making the change and for those times, offering encouragement and positive re-inforcement is the way to go. Job done! Other times, the problem really is a big problem – it could be depression, or OCD, or some form of phobia, or one of a huge range of mental health issues. What can you do in these circumstances?

Unless you have specialist skills or training, shouldn’t you just persuade your someone to seek specialist support? Well, that is certainly one thing you can do. But what about supporting them whilst they are doing that?

A client sees a therapist for an hour a week, even if it’s as frequent as an hour a day, they still have to get on with life the rest of the time. A good therapist will enquire about a client’s potential for support before embarking on therapy. For a client lacking in support, the journey to recovery will have to be slower, smaller steps will have to be taken. Too much rocking of the emotional boat is likely to do more harm than good. In the UK, if therapy is funded, it will be limited to 6 sessions, occasionally 12. It may not be possible to make the progress your someone needs in 6 or 12 sessions, when they are having to take slow, small steps.

Clients who can self-fund, do, but it is a substantive chunk out of a weekly or monthly wage. If your someone had a support network outside of therapy, it is probable that their therapist could ask more of them, that they will be able to take bigger bites out of the problem and bring therapy to an end sooner.

So, what does it take to be a support? Is it a skilled role? Do you need training? Is it something that everyone can do? Laura Hasha tackles the question “How to Help a Partner dealing with Depression” in her article. In it, she describes the negative responses she has received when she’s tried to communicate about her depression to the wrong someone and how she and her right someone are handling it now.

Principally, it’s about communication.

In her article, Laura Hasha admits that the person with the problem is likely to behave in a confusing manner. So, you start off by noticing: “You seem quiet and withdrawn, is it something you’d like to talk about? I may not be able to fix anything but I can listen, if that would help”.

If your someone indicates that they would like to talk, but seem to struggle, be aware they may not have the vocabulary, or they may be avoiding using any expresson which could suggest mental health. You could say: “maybe just tell me how you’re feeling, right now/last night, when I don’t think you got much sleep.”

Then you listen, you really listen. We call it active listening – when you aren’t thinking about your shopping list, that the ceiling needs painting, even of your response, you are simply focused on what your special someone is telling you.

If hearing what they have to say causes you to feel emotional, that’s OK. But keep it muted. Remember, this is about them, not you. They will want to see that you care, but they don’t need to end up comforting you.

… and repeat. Being reliably there to listen will make your special someone more likely to seek your support when they need it – possibly even before you notice their withdrawal.

They can also use lots of nurturing – not just demonstrations of affection, but making cups of tea, comforting meals, running baths, doing those chores which they hate doing, anything that could make their load lighter.

Lastly, keep up the encouragement and I don’t mean of the “you’re so brave/courageous” sort. You don’t give them a quality, you demonstrate that you’ve observed their qualities, you encourage them by reminding them of those great qualities. More like: “you’re so great with the kids, little Y has come through the terrible two’s so well because of your patience”. Or “remember how you handled that difficult situation with X. Your bosses were so impressed with your calm and competence and X was delighted that you understood their needs and solved them”.

So, it doesn’t require special training, but not everyone can do it, sadly. If you struggle with communication because you have Aspergers, or you lack empathy and/or emotional intelligence, providing this kind of support is likely to be beyond you. In those circumstances, perhaps you could consider seeking therapy yourself, hopefully with the support of your someone(s) special.

It also has to be said that we can’t care for everyone in our life, there simply isn’t enough of us to go round. But for those people who are special to you, it is something you can do. But you will need to make an active choice to do so because it is likely to require a commitment. But what a worthwhile commitment when that someone is truly special to you.

© 2016 Caring Coaching originally posted 26th May 2016