How to Help Friends Through an Emotional Crisis

by Sheri Oz Google

    The adage, “A friend in need is a friend in deed,” encourages us to support friends who find themselves in crisis. Psychologists Ed Diener and Robert Biswas-Diener, in their book "Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth," claim that friends significantly contribute toward people’s happiness and well-being because, “They can count on the other person for help if they need it.” As important as giving help is giving the right kind of help.

    What Friends Don't Need

    It is irrelevant whether or not we agree that the emotional crisis situation is dire. Judging friends may have a negative impact on their ability to cope well with what is happening. It is unhelpful to be told not to feel the way that you feel, that the problem is not really a problem or to hear any suggestion that the situation is less difficult than you see it. The only thing this accomplishes is convincing your friends to believe you do not understand the situation at all; it may lead to them looking for help elsewhere.

    Cultural Differences

    Taraneh Mojaverian and Heejung S. Kim compared the effectiveness of emotional support for Americans of European and Asian origin in a study published in 2012 in the "Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.” They found that both cultural groups benefited from receiving emotional support, but while European Americans often asked for help, Asian Americans would not ask regardless of how desperate they were. This shows us that not everyone feels comfortable soliciting help, and that we should be sensitive to cultural differences as well as individual differences. As a friend, you shouldn't wait to be asked; offer support and ask needy friends what would be most helpful.

    Providing Concrete Support

    Friends may appreciate help with children, the house or running errands. Can you pick the kids up after school or make sure there is gas in the car and food in the fridge? Can you stay to filter visitors or phone calls or have friends stay with you? When you take care of these day-to-day issues, your friends are free to do whatever is central to coping with the situation, whether that is taking care of a family member who is sick or in trouble, dealing with personal health issues or whatever the emotional crisis may involve.

    Providing Emotional Support

    Sometimes what is most helpful for friends in times of emotional crises is having someone to talk to. Being able to talk about difficult feelings with a friend who listens and does not judge is often all a person needs to regain strength and perspective. Although some crises can go on for a long time, they do come to an end; until then, if you can be available with a cup of coffee, cookies, a hug and a warm shoulder to cry on, you will give your needy friends the best gift friendship has to offer.

    About the Author

    With an Master of Science in marital and family therapy, Sheri Oz ran a private clinical practice for almost 30 years. Based on her clinical work, she has published a book and many professional articles and book chapters. She has also traveled extensively around the world and has volunteered in her field in China and South Sudan.

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