You don’t need a degree in counselling to be a supporter.  

In this week’s podcast, I talk about the different types of caregivers in a church and what to say when you don’t know what to say.   There are strengths and weaknesses of each type of caregiver support and by limiting care for only the pastor or professionals you are missing out on the enormous value that peers can offer. 

Offering training and accountability/support is a great way to keep volunteers.  

People feel inadequate and uncomfortable when they are supporting people and they don’t know what to say.  So in the podcast this week, I share 5 things you can do when you don’ know what to say.  

These 5 tips give people simple tools to support others so they don’t feel as overwhelmed.




Everyone has been in a situation where the person in front of them is suffering and they don’t know what to do. The person could be unloading their story and you are unsure of how to react, or they are unravelling due to grief, and you’re not sure what to do, because nothing can take away the pain they are experiencing.  In these times we can feel helpless, awkward, incompetent, foolish or insensitive. People also struggle with thinking that they are not equipped to support others. But I would like to challenge this thought.


You don’t need a degree in counselling to be a supporter. 

When talking about care ministry in churches there are 3 types of caregivers:

  1. Professional – Clinicians offering treatment
  2. Pastoral – Pastoral staff offering guidances through the biblical lens
  3. Peer – Those with lived experience offering support

Regardless if you listening as a professional clinician, pastor or peer. You can use these 5 tips of what to say when you just don’t know what to say. No formal education is needed, just compassion. 


5 things you can do when you don’t know what to say


1. Validate their experience

It can become a habit to first respond to someone with an “I” statement.  Without even realizing it you turn their story to be about you.

“I know of someone who …”
“I could only imagine what you are going through …”
“I’m sorry …”

By confirming that you have heard their story by saying it back to them with compassion is very validating.   

Validating someone’s pain, struggle or discomfort communicates to the person. “I hear you, I see you.”  Some feel that to support someone means to point out how to improve, change or fix their problem.   That is not supportive, that is problem-solving.  

Other’s believe that they need to fully understand the issue before being able to support others. So They ask lots of questions trying to understand for themselves.  This is not supportive, that is focused on your need to understand and get the details. 

You can simply say   “Sounds like you are going through a lot.  That must be very difficult.” “sound like you are really hurting, it must be so painful.”

You are validating the struggle and Showing empathy first, by not trying to fix or figure out what. 



2. Acknowledge the person’s strengths 

Oftentimes in tragedy people try to reason.  You hear things like “if only I did this differently…”

People start judging their actions based on their new understanding, not on their knowledge at the time. They can get caught up in the should=s would-a and could of’s and this self-blaming language could spiral down.  

By acknowledging the person’s strengths you are offering a different narrative of their circumstances.  You bring hope and encourage them to see beyond their current struggle, and you try to keep the focus on the moment rather than the past. 

Saying something like “You are a very caring person, and you have been working really hard to keep going!”  

Arguing or disagreeing with someone isn’t helpful, and distracted from your core purpose of support and offering hope.  Simply respond by identifying a strength that they have that will help them get through the situation. 


3.  Offer support that does not require the person to initiate and that doesn’t add burden to yourself 

When we are supporting others there is often one of two conversations in your mind. 

 “I want to help and do everything for this person” or

 “ I already have so much on my plate, but I SHOULD do something more.”  


 Fixing or doing this FOR the person is often not helpful in the end and supporting out of guilt is burdening yourself and often a sign of compassion fatigue.

So.. we often say things like “Call me if you need anything, really anything, and I’m there for you.”  

But honestly telling the person, “Call me if you need anything.” is often considered an empty offer and will likely never be acted upon.   It’s putting the responsibility of reaching out onto the person who is struggling.   And overwhelmed people tend to isolate and not want to be a burden to others.

As a supporter offer what you feel you are able to do and ask for permission, don’t wait for them to ask you. 

 “Hey, I have a busy afternoon, but could I check in with you later this evening”?

But please keep in mind if they say no, respect their answer. 


4. Be silent

Silent support is highly undervalued.  

When someone is facing tragedy or loss they are often overwhelmed. 

 Mentally, they are trying to process an immense amount of information.  They’re emotionally flooded and it can be very difficult to wade through everything they are experiencing.  

So adding to the “noise” may not be helpful.  Being present, but silence can be very uncomfortable for you, but it may be very soothing for the person.  If gives them room to process and possibly talk and express uninterrupted.

Stay silent long enough you and will be surprised what it said by others. When you don’t know what to say, it’s okay and best to say nothing at all.   



5. Offer encouragement 

Acknowledging the person’s strengths as encouragement is often rejected by those who are struggling.  

It can be so difficult to speak through the negativity that is happening in their mind, but once you do there is often hope and breakthrough   

Encouragement is all about the person who is struggling.  It’s not stories of your experiences or someone you once knew.  It focuses on them, their giftings, strengths and what God has in store for them.


During tragic times when you don’t know what to say, we quickly revert to something that is familiar; our own stories, and the desire to fix their situation.  Silence becomes awkward for us and sometimes find ourselves babbling on.   This is meeting our own needs at that moment.  

Keep the focus on the other person’s needs by ensuring the person feels heard, validated and built-up and asking permission to meet practical needs and offering hope.



Join the Church Mental Health Facebook Group! In the Facebook group, we chat about how to care for others, what are your challenges as well as share tons of resources.  This is a great community of pastors, clinicians, and those with lived experience and we want to get to know you.