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How to Help a Friend

When our friends are hurting, we hurt too, and knowing how to best help them can be difficult. At Counseling Services, we're often contacted by concerned students who have a friend in need they wish to help, but they don't know what to do.  Although everyone's situation has unique elements, here are some general recommendations to get you started.
Engle counseling friend image
  • Learn to listen.   It can be hard to resist the temptation to give our friends advice and tell them just what they need to do, but people in need benefit most from a friend who actively listens to them and tries to understand them.  By being a good listener, you provide your friend with the opportunity to organize their jumbled up emotions into words, which puts them one giant step closer to  understanding their problem and finding their own solution.
  • Listen with compassion, not judgementalness. Many hurting people struggle with low self-esteem and harsh self-criticism.  They may have kept their problems secret because they fear others will reject and dislike them if they knew the truth about their struggles. By listening with compassion, you offer them an incredible gift and give them a glimpse of God's own Grace. For people who have felt too ashamed to face God , the compassionate response of a Christian friend can give them the encouragement they need to turn to God for help.
  • Become informed about what your friend is dealing with. Knowledge is powerful, and helps us to better understand problems and find appropriate solutions. We've included information on a variety of issues in our self help resources area.
  • Know your limitations.  It can be difficult not to get caught up in a friend's problems,  but it's important to know what your limitations and boundaries are. Ultimately, it is your friend's responsibility to find the solution to their problems- not your responsibility. You can listen to them, encourage them, offer them  your observations and suggestions, and pray for them, but you can't FIX them.  If you find your own life beginning to sink under the weight of your friend's burden,  you've taken on too much responsibility.  Perhaps your friend is expecting too much from you, or you are expecting too much from yourself.
  • Get help if you need it.  There are many sources of help, both on and off campus, to help you to help your friend. Maybe you  need the perspective of someone  who is specially trained in helping people with their problems or you might   want to refer your friend to a professional for help, but you're not sure how to go about it.  You're RA and RD are available to help you sort through your concerns and so are the folks at Counseling Services. If you're afraid your friend might be suicidal or a danger to someone else, it's extremely important to let us know right away so we can take steps to keep everyone safe. For information on emergency contacts, click here.