No one can write a complete manual on what it is like to support someone through mental health concerns. Even if it is for work a friend or family member who is in need of a lot of care. There are lots of resources, tips and strategies to employ. But unfortunately and fortunately people are all unique and one of a kind, but this then means no one strategy or method will work for everyone.
So how do you be a great support, while still taking care of yourself?
By tying these 2 steps into your work:
1. keeping support goal oriented
2. debriefing after each meeting or interaction
The best ways I have found to keep doing this regularly is by using a worksheet or guided questions like the freebie at the bottom of this post!
DOWNLOAD THE WORKSHEET AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS POST
So what do I mean by this?? Here is a full run through of both aspects:
Keeping Support Goal Oriented
It may not feel like the most friendly or warmest thing to do, but keeping meetings or plans goal oriented help your sanity and help the person by being predictable and upfront on what you can offer.
- This benefits your sanity by helping you stay focused without always having to say “no” to new ideas or requests. When you have goals or plans in advance of each meeting, your focus then becomes on refocusing back onto those plans and not talking about all the things you can’t do with them.
- You start to see progress in the work you are doing! For someone with a lot of challenges, keeping the goals simple and achievable in one visit (ie. Call and make a dr. apt etc.) helps you also see progress. And writing down this progress is even more beneficial, as you aren’t relying on your tired memory when things get tough, you have a whole written history to encourage yourself and them.
- This focus also can help with working with individuals that are often in crisis or like to vent and rehash events you have already talked about before. Keeping plans and visits to one or two goals, helps you refocus the conversation without continually feeling cold and harsh.
Over time the person you are supporting will come to see this technique as comforting in that they know what to expect from you. Especially for those who haven’t had a lot of consistency in their life, you are modelling predictability and strength.
Reflecting after each Meeting
Now for all the perfectionists out there (*ahem*, I know from experience) you want to make sure this is healthy self-talk and debriefing, and not a rehash of every * silly * thing you happened to say, or what other people think of you or your actions. That’s not helpful, and not at all what I am talking about here.
Also, I am not talking about over prepping or thinking of every possibly thing that you need to prepare for in your next visit so heaven forbid you don’t look unprepared or vulnerable. That’s also not helpful, focusing on inadequacies is only going to tear down your confidence.
What I mean by debriefing, is reflecting back on the goals and events of your visit and if they are effective with that one person.
Here are some questions for guiding this conversation:
- What happened at this visit?
- Stick to facts only! Nothing to do with emotions or perceptions of what happened or problem solving. Just stick to a timeline of the events that occurred.
- Goals Completed?
- What aspect of that goal was completed? This can be as small as a tiny conversation about it, or as big as completing the goal. This is great to keep written track of, because you can use these examples to help encourage someone in the future on how far they have come.
- Was the goal we were working on clear?
- If no, how can I make the goal clearer next time?
- Goals for next visit?
- If your memory is as bad as mine, I like this one, because it helps me remember what I promised or said we were going to do at the next visit.
- If I need to bring anything, or do anything prior to next visit, I write it hear in great big letters so I remember before next time. Because, if I am expecting the person I am supporting to be accountable to do what they say they will do, I need to also model this myself.
- Reflection and Learnings?
- Where did we hit (or miss) our objectives? Did you get off track, feel silly about something you had said.
- Do you need to apologize for something you did or said? Write it down here so you can get it out of your mind for the time being and so you remember to talk about it at your next visit.
- What should we start, stop or continue doing? This helps you really think about your strategy and consider what things you are doing that are working really well on (ex. complementing the person on their daily routine, or that they really like talking while doing a craft activity instead of going to public place for a visit etc.) so you can do more of the things that are working well and less of the strategies that maybe aren’t working as well (ex. making morning appointments with the person etc.)
Although this may seem tedious to do after each visit (especially if you also need to do case notes for work), but it is something that you can do in 10 minutes in your car after a visit, or as simple as writing it out during your visit too in point form.
Taking the time to rethink thoughtfully about your visit won’t only make your support stronger and more effective. It will also help you with addressing any possible self-care issues you need to address, for example if you keep crossing your boundaries for a particular person or if you feel emotionally drained after visits. This can help you think through these aspects and address any of these issues before they impact you on a large scale – because unfortunately it always will, just sometimes takes more time then we think .