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HOW TO CONSOLE A LOVED ONE

"What do I say to someone who is upset?" We want to help, but we often struggle with how to console our loved ones who are in emotional pain. As a counseling psychologist devoted to researching, practicing and educating others about helping, I have a simple answer: If you really want to help, stop talking! Talking makes us feel better, so let your tearful loved ones do the talking. Console them by being an active listener, which involves two parts: 1 — Hearing what they say; 2 — Communicating back that you accurately see their point of view, feel their world as they experience it, and are eager for them to talk in more detail. Here's how to communicate that you're actively listening:

ATTEND. Convey nonverbally that you are wholly present and attentive. Show your support by making eye contact, using a soft and soothing tone of voice, and leaning forward with an open posture. Imagine you are trying to communicate "I'm open to you and I'm here for you" through only your vocal quality and body language.

PARAPHRASE. Briefly and nonjudgmentally repeat to your loved one the essence of what you heard him or her say to you. Don't just parrot the words; use your own words and then allow space for your loved one to confirm or disconfirm your paraphrasing accuracy. Examples include "I hear you saying that you have too much to do" and "It seems like this was an especially challenging week."

REFLECT. Briefly and nonjudgmentally say back to your loved one the emotions s/he seems to be feeling. This demonstrates that you hear what is being communicated to you beyond the content of the words. Examples include "It sounds like you feel hurt and angry" and "I hear your fear about what will happen next."

Your loved one will likely continue to talk through his or her distress while feeling increasingly loved and supported by you. Although these skills take time and effort to learn, the most important thing to express is your genuine care and concern.

When in doubt about a crisis situation, always refer the person to a counselor or a mental-health professional. In the Spokane area, contact Frontier Behavioral Health First Call for Help at 509.838.4428 or visit http://fbhwa.org. For assistance nationwide, call the National Institute for Mental Health toll-free at 1.866.615.6464 or visit www.nimh.nih.gov/health/find-help.