On the show today we are talking about skills for supporting others and how you as a ministry leader are able to effectively offer encouragement and care to those who look to you for support.
In the first few years as a counselling and case manager, there was a big learning curve. A lot of lessons were learned, and I would like to share with you my top 5 skills that I have learned for an effective supportive counselling session.
5 Skills needed to offer effective support
1 We are supporters, not saviours
As human beings, it’s normal to ask for help and support from those who are in a better position than ourselves. Our feelings of defeat paralyze us and our failure to overcome rob us of confidence.
But we are to be supporters, not saviours
We offer consistent encouragement and a safe place to wrestle through life’s tough tuff. We are cheerleaders and when people can’t have hope for their own future we become the caretakers of hope and hold it until they have the ability to take it back.
We are to work with someone, not work for someone.
A quick and simple way to check if I have crossed over that line of supporter to saviour is the ask. Am I working harder than the person I am supporting?
If the answer is yes, then I probably need to take a step back and let the person take the lead and be the hero of their own life.
And this is why it’s important to avoid giving advice.
When someone is asking for support, it’s usually because they have tried everything in their power and it’s not working. They are overwhelmed and feeling defeated. Our job is to come alongside them and become supporters, not saviours.
When we approach our helping work as supporters and not saviours we see the God-given talents and strengths within them and support them to find their own way out.
They build confidence and resilience and trust in god… rather than becoming dependant on us.
2 Knowing when to listen
Active listening is the primary tool for supporting others and it means to fully concentrate on what is being said rather than just passively ‘hearing’ the message. I’ve even heard it be described as listening with all your senses.
But I think these descriptions fall short. To actively listen is to listen with curiosity.
Listening with the intent to know more. To explore. To intentionally seek out the who, what why and how of the person’s story.
So often we listen to find proof of our point. Or even more common is to be pretending to listen, but really be formulating a response in your mind.
Active listening is more than body language or repeating back what the speaker has said. But it’s setting aside your agenda so that you can discover and truly understand the perspective of the person coming to you for support.
Active listening is listening with curiosity. Guiding the person with questions so they can then begin to see the challenges and/or their abilities in a new way
3 Clarify the purpose of the conversation
While just listening alone can be helpful, this is not ideal. It’s better for both the caregiver and person receiving support to have some sort of goal or next steps.
Without it the supporter can feel more like a punching bag, absorbing all the negativity, and it’s not productive as the person looking for support as they are not likely growing.
For a few years, I worked in a walk-in counselling clinic, where people could just show up and receive a single counselling session for free. In this role, it was really important to learn how to listen, narrow in on the key issue and provide tools, resources and strategies to support the issue they were facing. Because, although people could return for up to 3 sessions, the goal was to offer enough support that a single session would meet the need.
I began to notice a pattern in how the 1-hour sessions would run.
I would patiently listen for 20min as people shared their story and experiences. I spent 15 minutes asking curious open-ended questions which allowed us to focus on one key issue. The next 15 minutes was talking about tools, strategies and resources that could help them and then the final 10 minutes was making a plan on how they were going to implement these strategies.
Time after time without planning I would notice this pattern.
It was hard for people to narrow down what the key issues were. But questions like;
One is the one thing that keeps you up at night?
If you could solve one problem what would it be?
Or If you could find relief in an area, what would take the most pressure off you.
These questions would help narrow the focus. If the person goes down a rabbit trail then I would listen, summarize what they just said, validate its importance and ask a question that brings it back to the one key issue of the day.
I am aware that in traditional therapy you have many more sessions available, but for those of you who are going for coffee with those in your small group or offering pastoral care. being able to clarify the purpose of the conversation and remain focused on the primary issue is a skill that is incredibly helpful.
4 Being comfortable with silence
People can feel overwhelmed when they are going through difficult experiences and emotions and becoming comfortable with silence is necessary because silence allows the person time to process the questions we are asking.
Often times it can feel awkward, but think back to a time when you were overwhelmed. There was so much going on in your mind. Leaving extra room for processing is needed.
In a support session, people can feel vulnerable and don’t know what to say. But, the awkwardness of silence is a gentle way to encourage people to open up. If you stay silent long enough after a question people will eventually answer. And usually what they say is really insightful.
Silent support is highly undervalued. When someone is facing tragedy or loss they are often overwhelmed. Mentally, they are trying to process the flood of emotions. 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 other person.
5 Knowing when to refer
Knowing our limitations is our ethical response to supporting people. Understanding where our skills begin and end is essential to giving the best quality of care to an individual who is looking for help. This returns back to our first point. We are supporters, not saviours.
We can’t be all things to all people.
If you find that you are working with someone longer than you would like to, take a moment to reflect on the work you are doing and if the support is helping the person or if it is enabling them. Or perhaps the support they are needing is greater than what you are able to provide.
I believe that every supporter and caregiver should have a list of local resources and services that they are able to refer and connect people to. It may be addictions, grief, mental health, youth issues, or trauma. By having a network of professionals and organizations that have specialties s you can offer the best support to individuals by helping them connect with these other supports and professions
CONNECT WITH HOPE MADE STRONG
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.