Sometimes it is hard to know how to support fellow members. Are you:
If so, then we can help! Please carefully read the following information the Health
Education team has put together to help you help others.
Listening and Supporting Skills
Individuals seeking support just want to feel heard. Showing another member that you are
listening (or reading) can be difficult over the internet. Here are some basic listening
skills you can apply in the forums:
Paraphrasing: Paraphrasing is when you repeat what the
(other) member has said.
- You are not parroting, which is copying what the member said exactly; you are
repeating what is said in your own words, i.e. what you understood the member to
- This technique conveys understanding, interest and empathy.
- A few ways to start a paraphrase: "So you are saying that…" or "I have heard you say
Open Ended Questions: Questions that require more than a
one word answer.
- Avoid "Why" questions as it implies blame and could make the member become
- Try using How, What, When, and Who questions, i.e. "How did you reward yourself?"
Summarizing: Summarize what the member has said and what
has been discussed.
- Summarizing clarifies what has already been discussed and allows members to
- For example, "You mentioned numerous things about your current situation, such as
arguments at home and the anger you feel. You spoke of having no motivation to do
some of the things you used to enjoy. What are some steps you can take to start
doing some of the things you once enjoyed?"
Elaboration: To promote more discussion and to clarify
further, ask for elaboration.
- Try to avoid discussing broad generalizations.
- Ask them to give you examples.
- For example, ask questions like "Tell me more" or "Please explain further. "
In our society the expression of negative emotions is often discouraged. Individuals with
mental illness are sometimes told to stop whining or to just "snap out of it." This can
lead the individual to think that their feelings are invalid; therefore, they never
address the underlying causes of these feelings.
By reflecting and validating the members emotions we are making them feel heard and
understood; this in itself is therapeutic. The following are a few techniques on how to
- Draw out a few key emotion words used by the member and repeat those words in your
- Describe how you think the member feels in your own words. Sometimes hearing someone
else put feelings into words can lead to self-awareness.
- If you decide to re-word what a member is saying, remember to start by saying, i.e.
"You seem…", "I am hearing…" etc. Also, ask for clarification, i.e. "Is this right?"
or "Am I understanding what you are saying?"
- Do not try to exaggerate or minimize the emotion. For example, if a member says, "I
am feeling a little down" do not say, "I am hearing that you are depressed right
now." This can lead the member to think that they are not really being heard.
- Expand your vocabulary. Try to think of other words to describe a member’s emotions.
Do not be afraid to use a thesaurus. The more accurately you can articulate an
emotion the more self-aware the member will feel.
- Always encourage members to express themselves. Many members apologize for "ranting"
or "whining." Try to encourage further discussion by reassuring the member that
their posts are not seen as ranting or whining and that we appreciate their
contributions in the support group.
Do’s and Don’ts
Sometimes it is hard to know how to support fellow members. Are you :
- Don’t interrupt the thread. If you feel your response will change the thread topic
it is best to create a new thread.
- Don’t tell members you know just how they feel. You may be able to relate but you
will never fully grasp what others are going through.
- Don’t say things like "get over it", "it could have been worse", or "you need
- Don’t force your values on others.
- Don’t expect that others will always agree with you or see things the way you do.
- Don’t promise or promote quick fixes.
- Don’t give advice. Explain what has worked for you or ideas you have but do not
- Don’t press a member for personal details.
- Do use the member’s name, this shows the member that you see them as an individual
and not just another post.
- Do acknowledge the member for the unique and special person they are.
- Do say thank you for helpful responses.
- Do create many threads to talk about various topics.
- Do post in threads to support fellow members.
- Do offer your perspective.
- Do explain other options in terms of actions to take.
- Do say things like "what you are feeling is understandable" and "I am listening".
- Do be nonjudgmental and accepting.
- Do accept other people’s perspectives.
- Do understand that people do not choose to be depressed, anxious, or addicted.
- Do understand that overcoming mental illness and addiction takes time and hard
- Do recognize a member’s successes and help the member to appreciate their
- Do share your personal experiences.
- Do understand that you do not have to solve the problem for the member.
The support group should be an empowering and positive environment; using positive
language helps create a positive atmosphere. Sometimes it can be difficult to remain
positive, especially when members, and possibly you, are going through a difficult time.
It is not always possible to put a positive spin on a situation; however, there are
skills that can be applied that can help you be more positive in your posts.
Draw out the member’s strengths:
Recognize the member for the unique and capable individual that they are. All human
beings want to feel valued and sometimes the people who need it the most get the least
recognition. If you feel that a member is kind, compassionate, strong, driven,
articulate, poetic, or humourous, etc. tell her/him and let that member know how you see
her/him. Many members may be starving for this sort of recognition and will respond with
increased confidence and possibly become more open to discussion. That being said, it is
important for the acknowledgement to be authentic and not forced.
Reinforce to the member that they have the strength to achieve their goals. Empower the
member to recognize this strength. Empowerment means to encourage the member to realize
their own potential and their innate ability to control their own future. Through
empowerment we are assisting members to gain the confidence, skills, resources and
motivation they need in order to take control of their lives. We want the members to
have the strength to follow their own unique values and live a fulfilled and healthy
Use positive language:
It is easy to dwell on the negative; simply discussing the matter in a different tone can
help put things into perspective. For instance, instead of saying:
- "This is a terrible time for you." Say, "This is a challenging time for you."
- "This was a difficult lesson for you to learn." Say, "This is a valuable lesson for
you to learn."
- "This will be hard to resolve." Say, "You will overcome this."
Also, try to positively reframe a situation to make members aware of the good in a
situation. Sometimes it can be difficult to see the good in a situation when you are the
one going through it. Point out to the member the positives you see in their situation
without minimizing how they feel. For instance:
- A member states, "I can’t take this, 4 days into my quit and I want a cigarette so
bad!" A possible positive response, "You are half way through Hell Week! It will
only get better from here. I know you can get through this."
- A member states, "I feel so devastated! I slipped. I have worked so hard and it was
all for nothing." A possible response, "Try not to be too hard on yourself. Slips
are common while quitting smoking. The important thing is that you are still here.
What will you be taking away from this experience? How can you prevent a slip in the
Although helping others has benefits for the helper and helped, it can be taken to the
extreme. It is possible to become too invested and then feel overwhelmed or stressed due
to another member’s problems. If you ever feel that you are becoming too invested in
another member’s problems you need to take time for yourself.
- Do activities you enjoy
- Practice relaxation exercises
- Speak with family and friends
Remember, although we all care for each other in the support group it does not help
anyone to worry about another’s problems. To be blunt but realistic, it is not your
problem. You need to take care of yourself before you can take care of others.