How to Support Others Through a Difficult Time with Counselling

We begin to build our blueprint of how we should socially interact with others at a very young age. Our success depends on it!We are taught to wait for our turn to speak, to patiently stand in line behind others that have arrived before us, or to greet others with a friendly handshake.Some of our actions are even unconscious. For example, we know how much eye contact is socially acceptable, or how far apart we should stand away from another person before we are invading their space. However, sometimes our blueprint, for whatever reason, may have some missing pieces. How does your blueprint tell you to emotionally support someone who is going through a difficult time? Do you try to bring humor, resolve, or attempt to distract them from their situation?How successful have you been? While there is no right or wrong answer in supporting others through a tough situation, we provide a few suggestions in this article to keep you on the right track.

Listen for their Feelings

People often describe their problems by describingthe full details of what had happened in a situation. Evidently, it is important to listen to those details to acquire an understanding. However, it is when we hear and acknowledge their experience of the situation, is when they truly feel that their voice is being heard. Basically, we are valuing their experience and their experience matters. We may never know exactly what someone is going through, but we can empathize with how they feel about their circumstances.

We will use the example below to illustrate ideas in this article:

You have a sister that called you over the telephone in tears while explaining that she had an argument with her partner Kevin.Your sister was really upset with Kevin because he would work for weeks out of town and would invite his friends or family members over to their house without first consulting your sister. Sometimes, if Kevin is coming back into town late, your sister would be surprised by Kevin’s friends or family members at her doorstep, as she did not receive any warning from Kevin. When she had brought up her frustrations with Kevin, he argued that he deserved to see his friends and family and that it was his house too.

On the surface, we know that your sister is in a disagreement with her husband and that they have different expectations of each other. However, what is your sister truly saying? The answer lies in her feelings.Obviously, your sister is feeling angry and frustrated at Kevin, but there is more to listen for.

Your sister could be saying that she feels unimportant because Kevin is not prioritizing spending time with her after he returns from work. She could be saying that she feels alone in the partnership because Kevin consult with her about his ideas before acting. She could be saying that she feels embarrassed that she did not know or prepare for guests coming over to her house. She could be saying that she felt dismissed because her side of the story did not matter to Kevin. Notice how much more information we can extract from the scenario when we can hear her feelings? She may not have overtly stated any of her feelings, but these are the things that she can be trying to communicate.

Validate their Feelings

To validate another person is to acknowledge and accept their experience. It is a powerful action that can help others feel that they are truly heard and understood. However, providing genuine validation can be difficult when we do not completely agree with their position. If we were to take the example above, it can be difficult to validate your sister’s position if you do not agree completely with some of her beliefs. For example, if you do not agree with your sister’s belief that her partner Kevin should never invite his friends or family over to their house without first consulting her, then you could not validate that experience without sounding disingenuous and risk damaging your own relationship with her. You simply do not agree with her position, even though you want to support your sister through her difficult time.

The key to validation is not to focus on validating the content of arguments, because we may not always completely agree. Rather, we should focus on validating the feelings of the other person. Feelings are a true experience that is not for us determine whether they are right or wrong, as they simply exist and are apart of the human experience.We may argue that our sister’s request that Kevin consult with her every time before he decides to invite others is unreasonable, but we cannot argue against the fact that our sister is feeling unimportant, alone, or embarrassed. We may not even think that she has a justifiable reason to be feeling those feelings, but the fact is that those feelings are present. We can validate that it is challenging to feel unimportant or alone in a partnership, and we can validate that it is not easy to be consistently embarrassed about being unprepared for guests.

Avoid Fixing

The natural tendency for many of us when confronted by a problem is to fix it. However, think about the time when we just wanted to complain about an issue and rather than listen, the other person will provide unsolicited advice to try and resolve the problem. How did that feel? Perhaps we had already considered many ideas to resolve the problem, or we are simply not interested in fixing the issue at this moment. We just simply want to be heard and supported, but instead we are left misunderstood or frustrated.

Providing suggestions to resolve a problem is not necessarily an badidea, butmay be more appropriately used with the right timing. Consider waiting until the other person has solicited ideas or help in resolving the issue before shifting into problem solving.


Supporting someone through a difficult time is not an easy task. Our society does not teach us the details of how to best support others. When we can identify the feelings of others, we have a better chance to extract a richer meaning out of communication. We can also validate those feelings and offer suggestions when asked. With these strategies in mind, we are better equipped to listen and support those who are in need.


Living Well Counselling Services Inc.
4803 Centre Street Northwest #4,
Calgary, AB T2E 2Z6
(403) 695-7911
Counselling Calgary, by msmalindajennett
Living Well was created with certain values in mind. As Counselling Calgary centre  to help you connect with a Psychologist or Counsellor that is effective in their areas of strength and also one that is welcoming, non-judgemental & easy to work with. Whether you need to meet with a counsellor for anxiety, addictions or depression, are in need of couples therapy, anger management tools or an LGBTQ friendly therapist, one of us may be a good fit. For tips on finding the right counsellor, click here. We also strive to keep our rates lower than the set rate for most Calgary counselling agencies, and have therapists covered by benefits should you have access to extended health coverage.

Although Living Well is a counselling Calgary practice, we now serve clients worldwide through the advances of technology. We also offer a free 20-minute initial