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What to do when we are worried about someone...

What can we can do as a help providers when we are worried about the person we are supporting?

Navigating the trickiness of providing help when we’re genuinely concerned about someone can be like walking a tightrope.  It is oscillating between wanting to provide help that they need and not wanting to overstep and inadvertently take away their choice and control over their own life. Let’s unpack this a bit.

How are we showing up when we want to provide help?

Our motivation for providing help matters.  We may have mixed motivations, but it is important to consider what these are as they influence how we react or respond.

When we believe that the only person who truly knows what is best for a person is the person themselves, we convey a sense of respect for them as an equal human being and trust in their ability to exercise their agency. 

We are comfortable with not knowing all the answers and understand that there are many different ways to view a set of circumstances and to act in any given situation.

When we react from a place of obligation, the support we provide conveys to the person that they are needy, dependent, maybe even burdensome. The person may experience us as unwanted rescuers, martyrs or do gooders.  They may even resent us.

This is more common when we deny that we have needs or we refuse help to meet our own needs, we are effectively saying that there are some people who are providers of help (us) and some people who are recipients of help.  When one group is morally superior to the other and that receiving help is a weakness, this puts us out of right relationship with anyone we are providing help to.

When we act from a place of fear that is when we can panic which artificially restricts the range of possible response options available to us.  In these situations, we tend to fall back on coercive or carceral responses.

This can include when duty of care or policies and procedures are at the forefront of our mind.  This clouds our compassion and leads to making decisions for people of a generic, risk averse nature. This can include automatically recommending PRN medication, calling police or ambulance, taking the person to hospital.


How do we know if the person shares our worries?

Firstly, we need to establish whether the person shares our concerns.  We can only know this if we ask. Clearly and succinctly, we can establish that we care about the person and have noticed a change in them or their situation and wonder if they have also noticed that change.  It they have, how is this impacting them and how can we help. 

How do we know what the person needs are

This could be from previous discussions about their needs and preferences.  This could also be from observing what the person is saying with their non-verbal behaviour.  

However just because something was written down or discussed previously doesn’t mean that that is still what the person wants or needs in this moment.  It is good idea to check again.


Even if we do know what the person wants, check with the person if we are the person best placed to provide that help.

What kinds of help can we provide?

Supporting someone we are worried about involves demonstrating care, empathy and understanding.  Here’s a list of ways we can support someone:

1.     Active Listening:

  • Give our full attention.

  • Show that we are engaged through nods and verbal affirmations.

  • Reflect back what they’ve said to ensure understanding.


2.     Validation:

  • Acknowledge their feelings and experiences.

  • Let them know that their emotions are valid and you accept them.

  • Avoid dismissing or minimizing their concerns especially if these are different to ours.

  • That doesn’t mean we have to agree with them or experience them ourself, but we understand that that is the person’s experience.


3.     Empathy:

  • Try to understand their perspective.

  • Share our own experiences if relevant, but don’t overshadow their feelings.

  • Express genuine concern and care.


4.     Connection:

  • Spend time with the person, without rushing them or having expectations of where the conversation will go.

  • Demonstrate willingness to maintain the connection and that our relationship is important.


5.     Non-Judgmental Attitude:

  • Avoid criticizing or blaming.

  • Create a safe space where they feel comfortable opening up without fear of judgment.


6.     Respect Boundaries:

  • Understand and respect their personal boundaries.

  • Don’t press for information they are not ready to share.


7.     Ask Open-ended Questions:

  • Encourage them to express themselves by asking open-ended questions.

  • This allows for a deeper conversation and helps them share more about their feelings.      


8.     Offer Practical Help:

  • Provide assistance with tasks or chores that may be overwhelming for them.

  • Offer specific ways we can support them.


9.     Check -In Regularly:

  • Keep in touch and let them know we care.

  • Regular check-ins can help them feel supported over time.


10. Provide Information:

  • Offer relevant information or resources that might help them understand or cope with their situation.


11. Be Patient:

  • Understand that healing and overcoming challenges take time.

  • Be patient and supportive throughout their journey.


12. Celebrate Small Achievements:

  • Acknowledge and celebrate any progress, no matter how small.

  • Positive reinforcement can boost their confidence.


13. Express Unconditional Acceptance

  • Communicate that we accept and care for them regardless of the challenges they are facing.

  • Reinforce that our support is not conditional on their decisions or their situation changing.


14. Remind them of Strengths:

  • Remind them of past successes and coping mechanisms they may have used.

  • Ask what strengths and positive qualities these suggest about them.


15. Respect Autonomy:

  • Acknowledge their right to make their own decisions.

  • Offer guidance but respect their autonomy and choices.


16. Check natural supports

  • Ask who they have in their family, friends or community who are available for emotional and practical help.


Remember that everyone is different and it’s essential to adapt your approach based on the individual’s needs and preferences.  Supporting someone may involve a combination of these strategies, and ongoing, honest communication is the key.


What can we do if the person doesn’t want our help and doesn’t share our concerns?

Encourage Self-Help Resources:

  • Suggest articles or online resources that they can explore at their own pace if they are not ready for direct assistance.

  • Provide  numbers for hotlines.

Be Honest:

  • Be clear about the limits of the help we can provide.

  • Be clear upfront and remind them about any legal or organisational obligations we have to document or share our concerns with others.

  • Ensure that any documentation is done in conjunction with the person so they can contribute their perspective and know what is written.

  • Be clear about any consequences to the person of this disclosure.


Helpful resources include:

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