Most of us have been asked to listen to a friend in the midst of an emotional crisis. As a therapist, I have seen first responders who did an awesome job, and those who have made the situation ten times worse. The number one thing you want to do is usually the number one thing you should not do and that is give advice. When someone is in crisis they need a calm, safe environment that allows them to talk about what they’re going through without judgment or advice.
Dr. William Doherty, a marriage and family professor from the University of Minnesota, is developing a new program for first responders for military families, drug offenders, and regular people at community centers and churches. His attempt is to help raise awareness that everyone can help someone if they understand the techniques that will support the person without leaving them feeling hopeless and alone.
In his research of being a first responder, the number one quality most people needed was to be listened to.
In a sense, we all need one another at some time in our lives. Having a first responder who responds well can make the difference in marital success, parenting success and life in general. In a time when many people are crying out for support and hope, knowing what to say and what not say can make the difference between life and death.
Dos for being a successful first responder:
- Do listen, without interrupting.
- Do keep the information confidential.
- Do provide hope and encouragement.
- Do give your friend your contact number if they need to call (remember though to set your boundaries).
- Do encourage them when you note their strength or understanding of the people involved.
Don’ts for being a successful first responder:
- Don’t be judgmental or critical.
- Don’t try to cheer them up or fix the problem.
- Don’t give advice by minimizing or making light of the problem.
- Don’t talk about yourself and your own story.
- Don’t become part of the problem or be taken in as a third party of a relationship.
Being a first responder is an honor and means you are trusted. Don’t blow it by betraying that trust or honor. You aren’t a therapist so no matter what you do don’t play the part. Encourage your friend to find a therapist and be willing to help them find someone if they are too distraught to do so. No one is an island no matter how independent you believe yourself to be.