Dr. Seth Meyers, Clinical Psychologist

Dr. Seth Meyers, Clinical Psychologist

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


How to Reach Out to a Friend in Pain

Clients frequently ask me how they should approach a loved one they feel is in distress. The nature of the distress may be emotional, such as depression, or it may be a problem like alcohol or drug abuse. While the specifics of each case are different, the best way to reach out follows similar guidelines.

First, choose a relatively neutral time to share your concerns with the person. I’m not suggesting waiting for the perfect time—it will never come—but choose a moment when neither of you are especially agitated or emotional. Create a quiet environment relatively free of distractions. This will “set the stage” and convey the gravity of your concerns. It will also allow you to focus on the person completely. This in itself is a rather special quality in our busy, modern lives.

Be direct and honest when you address the issue but also be kind. Come from a place of concern. Avoid blaming language such as, “You always…” or “You are…” If you want to reach your friend, then it is best to confront them with examples of their behavior rather than name calling. Even if you are angry, calling someone a name will probably only shut them down. If you need to support your concern with concrete examples then focus on the person's behavior.

Ask the family member or friend how they feel—or how they are doing. This is a simple question which frequently goes unasked. It conveys caring and concern if you ask it like you actually want to hear a real answer, rather than the cursory, “I’m fine.”

Let them know that you want to help. Suggest that you help them find referrals to professionals who deal with their problem. Have a positive attitude about change but acknowledge your friend’s concerns. Even though your friend is suffering, the pain is probably familiar and the suggestion of change may cause them to have a lot of mixed feelings. Try your best to really listen and empathize with their feelings. Feeling “heard” may be the encouragement your friend needs to seek further help.

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