When a friend needs help

When a friend needs help

By The Counseling Corner from the American Counseling Association

The Counseling Corner from the American Counseling Association

We human beings are social creatures. We all have relationships with many other people in our busy lives. Sometimes they’re relationships that, while pleasant, we consider casual in nature. Other times, they may be relationships that are extremely important to us, especially when we see the other person having problems.

The relationships that matter most are those we have because we want to have them. These are relationships with close friends, family members and other relatives whom we choose to be around. These are people about whom we truly care, and it is that very act of caring that can sometimes pose relationship problems.

No matter how much we think of, or care about, someone close to us, there may be times when we find something troubling or disturbing about that person. Often, we struggle over whether we should share our opinion with this friend, knowing that it could jeopardize the relationship. We face that struggle even when the “friend” is a spouse or other close relative.

Some would say that if confronting a friend might damage the relationship, perhaps there was not much of a friendship to begin with. However, in the real world, most of us do not want to be careless, risking something as valued as friendship. Part of being a good friend is being sensitive to the other person and not intentionally causing him or her pain. So, when a friend behaves in a manner that is out of character, or risky to himself or his reputation, or consistently annoying to others, how do we approach that person with our concern that he or she may need help? Can it be done to at least minimize the risk of losing a friend?

One way is to use what might be called the “caring confrontation,” a “one – two” approach. It begins by ensuring that you are in a private place and that the conversation is only between the two of you. The first part of this type of confrontation is to describe the behavior that concerns you. The key here is simply to describe, not to interpret. You want to be objective and “scientific,” describing facts rather than simply offering personal opinion. You might say something like, “I noticed you seem short-tempered at work lately,” rather than “You sure are getting crabby, and I don’t like it.”

It also helps to make your description positive, rather than negative and accusatory. Rather than saying “You sure are depressed these days,” it’s just as easy to say, “You don’t seem to be quite as happy now.” Your objective is to state the facts in a manner that would be agreed to by other friends if their opinions were asked.

The second part of this “one – two” approach is to ask a question about whether your friend agrees with your observation and to offer an invitation to discuss it. “You don’t seem as happy lately. Am I right?” Does your friend feel your observation accurate? Is what you stated symbolic of other things not going well? If you have said that the person seems short-tempered, follow that up by asking if you’re right, and if it is something he or she would like to talk about.

This “one – two” approach provides an invitation for the friend to talk without positioning you as an authority trying to “fix” the problem. You may find you’ve opened up your friend’s eyes to something of which he or she was unaware. You may also find your invitation to talk may provide an explanation totally unrelated to your original thoughts.

If, after trying the “one – two” approach, your friend does verify your concern, simply talking out the problem may help. However, there may be serious issues that would benefit from professional help. If you think a professional could assist, make that observation in a positive way. Emphasize that a person does not have to be “sick” to get better, and that all of us face problems occasionally with which we could use help. You can help by giving your friend the encouragement and support he or she needs to get professional help and get on with a positive life. Remember, the point is not to be confrontational, but rather to help your friend find needed help when appropriate.

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