Monday, April 22, 2013

Given your role in the University system, you may be called on to help people through this crisis. It is normal to feel helpless and to think that you lack knowledge, but you are probably a more capable helper than you realize. There is no single correct response to make when someone needs support. Remember that you cannot eliminate people's pain, but you can help them through their pain. This handout will provide you with some ideas for things you can do to help with the coping process. 

General Goals for Helping 

  • Listen.
  • Provide immediate support.

  • Provide information and suggestions for coping. 

Specific Suggestions for Helping 

Although there are some common ways that people react to extreme stress, everyone is unique. These suggestions may not fit for every person who turns to you for support. Use them as guidelines. 

  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

  • Normalize people's reactions. Trauma survivors are having normal reactions to abnormal circumstances. Stress reactions that would be excessive at other times are normal now.

  • Listen emphatically. Invite people to talk, help them to summarize their thoughts and feelings, and communicate your concern. Giving people a chance to express their feelings is important. Often people need to tell their stories many times; enable them to do so.

  • Let people know that it's OK to feel bad, and it's OK to share their feelings with others.

  • Ask people what they have been doing to cope. Help them see that they have some good coping skills which they are already using, and encourage them to continue using those skills that are working.

  • Help people identify sympathetic others such as friends and family. Encourage them to talk to people in their natural support system.

  • Encourage people to spend time with others, even if they don't feel like talking: watching TV, studying, and just "hanging out" with friends can be comforting.

  • Talk with people about small ways they can take care of themselves. Some examples include going to a movie, talking a hot bath, reading a good book, listening to music, exercising, etc.

  • Help people structure their time by having a schedule and keeping busy. Writing about feelings can help fill empty time. (Writing can also help people process their feelings.) 

  • Suggest that people keep their lives as normal as they can. Basic activities such as eating, sleeping, and going to class should be maintained as much as possible.

  • Help people set priorities. This may not be the best time for them to make major decisions.

  • Suggest that people continue to make as many small daily decisions as possible. Making daily decisions can provide them with a sense of control and help alleviate feelings of helplessness. For example, if someone asks them what they want to eat, they should answer even if they don't have a specific preference.

  • Caution people not to "numb" the pain with alcohol or other drugs.

  • Provide people with information about professional help and resources.

  • Remember that YOU need support as well! Know when you need to take a break. Talk to a friend or colleague. Take care of yourself.