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How to help a friend through a tough time, according to a clinical psychologist

https://www.vox.com/first-person/2019/12/10/21003228/how-to-help-a-friend

vox.com

How to help a friend through a tough time, according to a clinical psychologist
First-person essays and interviews with unique perspectives on complicated issues. Science supports what we intuitively understand: Strong relationships enhance the quality of our lives. We have all felt our outlook brighten after a meaningful conversation and our mood sour after conflict.

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Asking about feelings

Asking about feelings

The act of asking an open-ended question shows that you care. “What does that feel like?” or “What has been on your mind as you’re going through this?” Then, listen non-judgmentally to their response without interrupting or offering your opinion.

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Willingness to understand

If someone, for instance, has received a new medical diagnosis, you can say, "It sounds like you're worried about the side effects of the treatment. Is that right?"

You can also express kindness by saying, “You’re in such a tough situation.” A facial expression is also a powerful way to show support.

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Offering support

Not every person feels comforted in the same way. Acknowledge that by asking "How can I support you?"

It expresses a desire to assist without jumping in to problem-solve.

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Negative thoughts

Negative thoughts

Emotional pain can feel unbearable at times, especially if people lack support. It may sometimes lead to harming thoughts.

If someone you care about is going through a tough time and had suicidal thoughts in the past, ask them directly if they are thinking of hurting themselves. Research shows that upfront questions may benefit them.

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Reassurance

Statements like "Everything will be fine," or "It could be worse," rarely help.

Instead, try saying things like, "There's help available; we'll find it together," or “I’ve seen you get through extremely challenging times in the past, I believe in you.

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The imposter

True mindfulness has been spoiled by an imposter. The imitation provides an excuse to be self-centered and self-indulgent. It promises health and spiritual purity.

Definition of mindfulness

Mindfulness is the nonjudgemental awareness of the richness, subtlety and variety of the present moment, not just of the self. It is not the same as meditation, although meditation can form part of it.

Mindfulness acknowledges every moment of existence, good and bad. It is used to stand still in the moment, reflect and gain perspective.

Mindfulness is a limited tool

Gazing inward to focus on a connection with yourself cannot deliver magical benefits. Acknowledging your thoughts is not the same as cherishing them.

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History of existential therapy

  • Its origins go back to the existential philosophers of the 20th century, mainly to Jean-Paul Sartre, who declared in 1943 that we are “condemned to be free.”
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Existential therapy has slowly been gaining recognition

In 2016, there were 136 existential-therapy institutions in 43 countries across six continents, and existential practitioners in at least 48 countries worldwide.

Recent studies show the benefits of using existential therapy for patients with advanced cancer, incarcerated individuals, and elderly people residing in nursing homes, among others; a number of meta-analyses have gathered data on its effectiveness.

What is existential therapy

Existential therapy concentrates on free will, self-determination, and the quest for meaning. It views experiences like as anxiety, alienation and depression as normal phases in the human development and maturation.

This process involves a philosophical examination of a person's experiences, emphasizing the person's freedom and responsibility to facilitate a higher degree of meaning and well-being in their life.

The 'assumption of healthy normality'

There is an assumption that emotional pain and suffering is a deviation from a default happy baseline. However, it's incorrect. Psychological pain is everywhere. 

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Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)

The goal of ACT is not necessarily to reduce one's problematic thoughts and emotions. It is to help people effectively function while they are distressed and to promote more flexible and value-driven behaviors.
In other words, the primary goal is to promote 'valued living.'

Valued living

Valued living is going about your daily life in the service of values you find important. Engaging in these actions creates a sense of meaning and purpose.

The symptoms of psychological suffering are problematic when they are linked to behaviors that draw us away from valued living.

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