A year ago I was taking a course in Counselling Skills at McMaster. I think this is one of the most important courses I have taken in both my undergrad and seminary training. I am known to be a good listener, compassionate and understanding, but when I started to learn some of the micro-skills that make a good counsellor, I realized how much I still needed to learn about helping people through conversation. I definitely learned a few things about what it means to be a good friend and confidant.
Everyone, I mean every single human being on the planet has the need to feel heard, understood and known by the person they are talking to, regardless of the circumstance. There are really easy ways to do this and you don’t need to be a counsellor or take a Master’s degree to do so but it does require setting aside your own opinion and agenda. One of the most hurtful things to any relationship is to dismiss how the other person is feeling. This happens when we neglect to validate the other and begin problem solving. Generally speaking, we need to trust that the person we are talking to has what it takes to solve their own problems and our role (as a friend, pastor, or coach) is to simply be present and supportive.
Responding to someone who has experienced a crisis - that is an event that throws a person 'off balance' does have the added concern about how to positively impact their immediate reaction. The hope of "emotional first aid" is to interrupt or positively impact a person's immediate reaction and help build their confidence so they can take steps forward. If the person you are talking with doesn't feel heard, understood or known, you won't be able to help them move toward recovery and may do more harm than good.
I found a few graphics from the Mental Health Commission of Canada on Instagram that perfectly summarize how to be a good listener, in a crisis or not. MHCC is a great resource for helpful tips. They share resources that are helpful both personally and to the people we care about.