Don't Miss the Mark - Three Challenges in Helping Friends with Grief & Trauma Healing
"Hi, I'm calling for my friend Sally? She has just lost her husband and she really needs to seek some help. She can't work or sleep and is so sad all the time. I need you to help her."
It's only natural to want to support someone you care about with their Grief & Trauma Healing. I often get calls from folks who want me to help their sister, their friend or their spouse. They have lost someone and their lives have gone off the rails. Trauma has invaded their lives and they don't know what to do.
But here's the issue....ok, here are three issues. And they all mean that if you manage this offer the wrong way, you will actually make it LESS likely they will get help. Here's what I mean:
Asking for Help
As we all know, recognizing that we need help, and then asking for help, is often the toughest part. It often takes a while to get to either of these conclusions. One has to wait till the shock wears off, or perhaps after a funeral is over or an estate has closed, to even think about what happens next.
So getting the timing right is crucial - and it has to come from them, not you. It may take years, after they have gone back to work too soon or tried to just go back to the way things were. Or their Trauma may be quite deeply embedded in their life. You may miss your guess as to when they are ready, even though you care about them and you just want their suffering to stop. But that desire may make it hard for you to discern what the timing looks like.
Then there is the stigma of mental health in general, where some people think they are being weak or crazy if they cannot manage devastation on their own. And the fact is, none of us can - including me. But if you push them or contact someone on your own and take that decision process out of their hands, they may recoil and get angry or resentful, thereby making it more difficult for them to seek it out later. Their pride has been hurt and their shame may deepen. What if your good intentions make it that much harder for them to get help?
Who The Heck Am I?
One of the most important determinants of success is a trusting and solid relationship between the counselor and the client. But your client doesn't know me, or any other counselor, from a hole in the wall. And while my intention is to always help everyone, I know that's not possible. There are some folks for whom I am just not the right fit. Which is fine, if they choose someone else! And sometimes it takes time to find that right equation that feels comfortable, non-judgmental and makes progress.
BUT - I really do have to speak to the person themselves to figure out if I can help them. I do so very much appreciate your faith in me. But whether it is me or any other professional, the best thing would be for your friend or loved one to speak to me directly. I have free initial consultations, as do most healers and counselors.
A Better Option
If someone you care about is suffering from a loss or spinning from un-healed trauma, remember these simple tips:
Take your suggestion of help very gently and slowly.
Make sure you don't take anything away from them and let them think about choices on their own.
Keep them focused on the facts that, for instance, their health is in jeopardy or their job or relationship has gone sideways.
Try and avoid saying "going into therapy" or "asking for help". Try "get some new ideas" or "figure out a better way".
Don't berate them for not seeing they need help - that's ok. Tell them how concerned you are for them.
Suggest a single phone call with a professional - that seems less daunting and overwhelming. Then leave it to that professional to unravel if your friend is ready and how to support them. That's our job.
What's that saying? The road to hell is paved with good intentions? We usually mean well when we want our loved ones to get support. But these steps will make it more likely that that support results in successful healing, instead of adding to their distress. The latter often happens even when we don't mean it to. But some simple mindful rephrasing and gentle management of expectations will create a better space to give them the ease that they need. And for you to be the true friend that you are.