In 1987 I started a process to get my clinical license in psychotherapy. I had five kids and a wife and I needed to get a second job. By December 1989 my license arrived. In January, 1990, I found an office and rented by the hour.
My practice got larger and it certainly wasn’t because I was all that good. I just had a couple of good referral sources from folks I knew at my job. At the time I was working for Child Protective Services. I got to learn a great deal about child abuse, and the referrals were parents that needed some help reining in their anger or addictions. You help somebody with those, and they get to be better with their kids.
I tried to listen and not jump to conclusions. I could do that, even though my diagnostic skills were remedial at best. Though some days I didn’t know my ass from apple butter, I could at least sit and just be present for these people. I could smile, let them know they were OK, and that it was going to be OK. I knew they were hurt. And I knew, too, that if I was just kind to them, holding no judgment against them, they might feel comfortable enough to just sit and relax, maybe learn a little something about themselves from our conversations and adjust their behavior accordingly.
I found out later that letting people know they are good, and convincing them things are going to turn out fine, is the basis for any psychotherapeutic encounter. This promotes healing. But more importantly, that little formula right there is the basis for helping anybody you know: If somebody you care about knows that you’ve got their back and believe in their ability to stand up again, you cure the fundamental pillars of a major depressive disorder: Worthlessness and Hopelessness.
Nail those two, and the life of those you love begin to see the light of day. When somebody knows they’re OK and believes that it’s going to be OK, everything changes for the better.
According to the DSM-V, the bible for psychotherapeutic diagnostics, “feelings of worthlessness” and “recurrent thoughts of death (hopelessness)” are the foundation of a Major Depressive Disorder. Take those out, and the disorder isn’t there anymore.
If you give somebody a little bit of hope and reinforce their feelings of worth, ease appears. Fatigue fades away. Sleep improves. And their energy begins to be restored.
Throughout the week, therefore, I would do exactly that. It was my mission. I would check in with my clients. I would let them know I believed in them and that the best chapter of their life was just beginning. Carl Rogers, a brilliant psychologist, said healing is within the relationship. I knew that helping people heal was not confined to our fifty minute session. I had to show up when they needed me. In time, they believed that I cared. And their trust in me translated into trust in themselves.
Your job as a friend is based on the same thing. This is how it’s done. It’s that simple. So here’s a primer of what you need to do.
Just be kind. Suspend judgement and bite your tongue when it comes to advice. Keep the phrase, “You must be exhausted” on your lips. Depression, anxiety and especially grief are, if nothing else, exhausting.
Be with that person. Don’t ask when you can come over. Instead, try “I’m on my way. I’m bringing food.” Never ask, “So, how are you feeling?” Nobody knows that answer to that question, which is why the word “fine” was invented. I used to ask every one of my clients, “So, how the hell are you? What’s happening with you? Give me the update! Want some coffee or water or a coke or something?” That was my opening line for thousands of clients. Make the introduction friendly and disarming. Take the intensity down a peg.
Watch cartoons and go shopping. Keep the media light and the feet moving. Bring normal to the table. Most people don’t know what they want to do, so don’t ask. Just start doing something to get them in motion. They’ll adjust the program to their liking once they’ve got gross motor coordination up and working.
Predictability breeds strength so bring routine in your demeanor. Those who are digging out of a hole have to believe you, and it’s not going to happen unless you’re being yourself, a tad more aware of them, but elevating your affect and not deviating from your interpersonal script. Don’t make it a point to laugh unless you feel like it. Let laughter come naturally, and if you’re a little more at ease, laughter will arrive sooner or later. Take somber out of the equation. Neutral is better.
Pepper your sentences with words like “dammit” “fuck” and “asshole,” particularly if you knock over your wine glass or are talking about somebody who is really being, well, an “asshole.” Profanity helps punctuate our feelings. It brings the feelings up from our bowels. If you start dropping “F” bombs, those who are in pain will follow. And, with any luck, they’ll use that profanity to draw forth the really stuck feelings, saying things like, “Why the fuck did that have to happen?” or “Why the hell did he have to die?”
Hug. In my mind, there is nothing as healing as that. Hugging resets tactile sensations. When you hug, use both arms. And don’t do a “pat pat pat, there there” hug. Hold on, and let them hold on to you. And if it goes on for more than ten seconds, rock back and forth, but only slightly. It’s not a waltz, it’s a hug.
Give this a little time, like a month, and then watch how they begin to let go. They’ll cry. They’ll start talking about life again. They’ll discharge the pain.
Just keep a box of kleenex handy. And when you hand it to them, say “Here. I’d give you my sleeve but I like this shirt” or “That’ll be thirty bucks. Or you can buy lunch.”
You’ll give light to their spirit. Be that light by being there, bringing food, and hugging the hell out of them.
By entrusting us with your feelings, we help you take steps that you see necessary to begin and put forth the energy to make the needed change.
Now notice something: Trust in a coach, mentor, or guide helps you see what's in front of you. We see a Coach for Your Heart a little like an emotional Sherpa, somebody that helps you climb your mountain by pointing out where to best step along the path.
Offices in San Diego and Denver, but will travel to meet onsite anywhere in the United States and the World.