If, due to social distancing, or for some other reason, you are helping someone over the phone or online, it is important to remember that you are not a counsellor or therapist. You are there to provide reassurance, empathetic warmth and show that someone else cares.
You are there to listen, offer any straightforward practical support, and seek help from others if needed.
If you are supporting someone in this way, do it somewhere quiet you will not be interrupted.
Tell them that their welfare matters; and you are there for them. Ask what they need.
Speak clearly and slowly, ensuring they understand who you are. If they have any reason to doubt who you are, give them a method to call you back.
Ask gentle, simple questions that help you to check they are safe and show that you care.
Focus on practical questions that are not invasive.
‘What have you done today?’
‘What have you eaten?’
‘Did you get some sleep?’
If there are particular questions you want to ask, write them down before the call so you do not forget.
Let the conversation flow naturally. Save some questions for later in your conversation so the person you are helping does not feel interrogated.
A person you are supporting may want to talk about their feelings. Or they may not. Both are ok.
Ask questions that give them choice.
‘Would you like to tell me what you are feeling right now? Or how you felt today?’
‘I am here to listen if you want to talk to me.’
Give the person time to speak, or just be quiet. Both may help. Tell them there is no rush. You have time.
Pauses in the conversation are OK. They help someone to catch their breath, think about something, or have a cry.
Be supportive by reflecting what they have said back to them. This helps you show you have understood. Avoid interrupting or talking without need.
You are part of the conversation, and you are a supporter, not a therapist. However, avoid talking about yourself or your own problems. You are supporting them, not the other way around.
It is important not to judge, nor impose your own beliefs and values. For example, if you have religious beliefs someone else may not share, do not impose them. If the person you are supporting says they believe in an after-life, and you do not, try not to express this.
If you are supporting someone over video call:
Make sure you are in a quiet room and will not be disturbed by people or pets.
Make eye contact with your camera and remember you are on screen; it can be easy to forget. You are using video, so they can see your warm eyes as well as your warm voice, and this helps, but ensure you do not lose eye contact or face distractions.
You may want to think about what is behind you. For example, a calming picture, or a plain wall, or something else that is calming at this difficult time.
If you are supporting someone by messaging:
Use simple language that can be understood easily.
It is difficult to sense someone’s tone of voice over messaging or know their emotional state. Do not make presumptions. Ask if you need clarification about anything.
Be aware that your own tone may be open to misinterpretation too. Keep things very simple.