Talking helps

words: Catherine Betley, Professional Help
Professional support

With more families experiencing grief in new ways as a result of coronavirus, more emphasis is being placed on conversations. SAIFSupport’s Catherine Betley explains how important they may be…

You might wonder, what difference can I really make with one chat? What if I say something wrong or open up a can of worms and make the person somehow worse? I haven’t got the time, energy or skills to support them ongoing, so is it worth me having that one conversation?

My answer would be ‘yes’, with caution. Those are valid concerns. If you are going to support someone in a one-off conversation, here are some suggestions on how best to do it:

  • Ask open questions: ‘how are you feeling?’ works better than ‘are you okay?’ because it invites a fuller and often more honest answer. Try not to make assumptions; they may want to talk about a particular issue, but it could be deeper or wider than it first seems, so it can be worth asking ‘what else?’ What else is worrying you? What else could you try to assist your self-care? What else can I do to support you today?
  • …but be clear it is okay not to talk. Knowing that they won’t be pushed, or knowing that if they don’t feel like it today, they can come back another time, can be just the reassurance needed to encourage someone to open up – when they are ready.
  • Listen, acknowledge, and offer observations rather than advice. Phrases such as ‘I’ve noticed from what you’ve said that…’ and ‘I wonder whether…’ are a good way of showing you’ve heard what’s been said and can be gentler ways of interacting than telling someone what you think they need to do.
  • If possible, try to ‘close’ the chat effectively. One option is to end on something positive, if appropriate, however small, or a next step for today (for example: ‘what do you think you will do for the rest of the afternoon?’, or ‘that’s great that you’re going to get out in the garden and have some fresh air’), and of course a wish for them to take care and maybe think about taking another step towards the help they need.
  • Look after yourself, too. Hearing and supporting other people is tiring, especially if you do it well. If possible, leave some time for personal reflection after the conversation.

A ‘one-off’ conversation about emotional wellbeing could be the only one someone has. A talk is never less important for being a ‘one-off’. That one chat might be the one thing that makes a difference.

Catherine Betley is a counsellor for Professional Help, the organisation behind SAIFSupport

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