Whether friends approach you about a problem they are having or you want to approach them about something that bothers you, keep in mind the following important general guidelines when you are helping a friend.
Find a place that is private and comfortable. People are usually more receptive to being helped and will listen more to what you have to say when nobody else is around. Also make sure both of you have the time and are not rushed or preoccupied.
If you are concerned, be specific about why you are concerned. Tell your friend what you have observed recently, such as him or her eating less, missing classes, not attending floor meetings, sleeping too much or too little, etc. Sticking with specific observations may make your concerns easier to communicate.
Listen. People who are in need benefit most from a friend who actively listens to their concerns. Do not rush to fix, advice, correct, or disagree with your friend; just listen. While being an active listener, look at your friend directly, ask him or her to clarify things you do not understand, summarize what your friend says to you in order to be sure there is mutual understanding, and ask questions to help your friend take a closer look at what he or she is saying. Once you have listened to your friend and he or she feels understood by you, your friend will likely be more receptive to hearing your ideas and advice.
Validate. Understand and acknowledge your friend’s current distressing situation and how your friend feels about the situation. Validation often calms people because they no longer have to convince the listener that they have a problem that is serious to them. Therefore, do not say things such as, “Don’t worry about it,” or “Everything will be better tomorrow.”
Avoid judging, evaluating, and criticizing, even if the student asks your opinion. These behaviors will likely push your friend away. Remember to see your friend’s distressing situation from his or her perspective.
Develop options. Brainstorm with your friend about possible ways of resolving the issue and suggest various resources to obtain further help, such as friends, family, clergy, RAs/GAs, or professionals on campus. This can assure the student that things can get better and things will not always seem hopeless.
Respect your friend’s wishes but don’t make promises you can’t keep because you may need to talk to a professional about your concerns.