What Helps?

Self-Therapy For People Who ENJOY Learning About Themselves

Sometimes we want to be helpful to an adult friend who is feeling bad. How can we offer such personal help to a friend? How can we guard against damaging our relationship with them in the process?


  1. Do you really WANT to help?
  2. Are you willing to ONLY LISTEN unless they specifically ask for more?
  3. Can you pay attention to their EMOTIONS instead of their problem?

Don't Think For Them

Giving advice or offering explanations and interpretations without being asked is insulting. It implies that you think your friend can't think for themselves.)

Don't Invite More Emotion Than You Can Handle

Even if it is clearly asked for, don't invite emotional release unless you can stay with your friend while they experience their feelings. (Don't say "maybe you need a good cry" unless you are willing to sit through the tears!)

Don't Get Lost In The Problem

Your friend will be telling you about some problem that has lots of emotion attached to it. Pay attention to the emotion, not the problem.

If they are sad, show that you care about how bad it feels. If they are angry, help them to talk it out (without either agreeing or disagreeing). If they are scared, comfort them physically (if that's appropriate) or with your words. If they are feeling guilty, ask them to think about whether they might be angry instead.


If they had wanted a preacher, a therapist, or a parent they could have gone to one. They came to you because they wanted a friend!


Two things can help when we feel bad, love and therapy. Therapists offer therapy, friends offer love. A true friend is someone who plays with us, enjoys us, and is there for us.



Some people always seem to be feeling bad. Think about each of your friendships, and ask yourself this question: "Do we usually just have fun, without talking about some problem?" If the answer is "no," your friend is not asking you to be a friend, they are asking you to be a counselor or an advisor of some sort. The potential "pitfalls" in such a relationship are too numerous to mention. Either back out of this friendship cautiously or insist that it change into something you can both count on to be enjoyable.

"You look bad today, do you want to talk?" "What's wrong with you lately? Is everything OK?" If you often say things like this to your friends, you aren't offering friendship, you are offering a "helping relationship" which evidently you need more than your friend! Prove your competence in some other way. Let your friends be.


"Agitation" is a special rhythmic kind of wriggling. We all do it sometimes. We might tap a pencil against our desks, or move our legs up and down repeatedly.

PERSISTENT agitation is a sign of extreme emotion and confusion. If the person you are trying to help agitates constantly ask them to stop it if they can so you can concentrate. If they keep agitating even after you've asked them to stop a few times, stop talking about the problem! (Invite them for a quiet walk or something.) This person has so much going on "down deep" that they can't even hear you well.

And if all of that emotion and confusion did come up, it would definitely be way too much for you to handle in a friendship.


When your love and caring isn't enough, don't be afraid to say so.

Remember that you can't really help unless you want to, and you can't possibly want to if you are being overused or if you are running out of time or energy. Simply say: "I don't think I can help you anymore with this," If they ask you where they can turn now, tell them all you know about resources in your community. If they don't ask, tell them anyway if their level of pain is compelling.

Tell them about this neat self-therapy program you saw on the Internet! Tell them that your friend "Tony" would be happy to suggest a course of self-therapy for them if they'd just ask.

next: Peace on Earth

APA Reference
Staff, H. (2008, December 13). What Helps?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 19 from

Last Updated: March 30, 2016

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

More Info