If a friend or relative has gone through a tough situation recently, you may be wondering what you can do to help. Can anything you say or do really make a difference? Yes, if you take the time to understand the different ways in which people react to trauma. Your loved one is dealing with something very difficult, and you naturally want to ease the burden. Here are some ways you can do this:
First, recognize that the symptoms of the trauma may not go away immediately. They may stay the same or even worsen over time. This is because a traumatic event can be so intense and shattering that a person’s sense of safety and predictability in life are gone. The person may be fearful all the time, even when there is no reason (in your mind) to be scared. She may be preoccupied with the traumatic event for some time. She may even have flashbacks.
One of the most important things you can do to help someone get over a trauma is to listen. Your friend may ask you to hear her story and empathize with her, or she may seem withdrawn. In that case, simply be with her and tell her you’re there to listen to whatever she has to say. Don’t take offense if she can’t or won’t talk about the event or her feelings. Simply being there may ease her mind, even if you don’t feel like you’re doing anything. Your friend may feel more comfortable writing down her feelings and showing them to you. If she does want to talk about the event, let her talk. Don’t censor, interrupt, or judge her.
Another valuable step you can take is to steer your loved one to a support group or counselor who’s specially trained to deal with this type of trauma. Your loved one may feel very alone and not realize that others have gone through what she’s going through. But don’t push-she simply may not be ready. Of course, if you feel she’s unable to cope with life, it’s imperative that she get professional help so she can function normally again.
Finally, take over some basic tasks. If your friend was in a car accident and is afraid to get behind the wheel, drive her to her doctor’s appointments. If she’s too stressed out to shop and cook, put together some meals she can heat quickly and serve her family. Recruit other friends and neighbors to help out, too. Letting her know you’re there for her and support her can greatly help your friend gradually recover and enjoy life again.
American Psychological Association, www.apa.org.
Laurie Saloman , Reviewed by QualityHealth’s Medical Advisory Board