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Lend a listening ear

September 09, 2020

Ohio State's Buckeye Peer Access Line has tips on helping your friends through difficult times

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An Ohio State student relaxes.

Peer support is critical to helping people deal with stress and anxiety. Ohio State's Buckeye Peer Access Line has tips on how you can help your friends in need.

Know someone dealing with stress or anxiety right now? 

There may be a simple way to help them: Listen.

Not sure how to do that exactly? Ask a PAL.

Ohio State students who volunteer for the Buckeye Peer Access Line (PAL), a non-emergency talk line within Student Life’s Student Wellness Center, learn skills that include active listening and motivational interviewing. These skills empower people struggling with everyday stresses and anxieties to find their motivation and capacity to make pivotal changes in their lives.

“It’s all about helping the person to process what they’re feeling and feel confident in their decision moving forward,” said Ivory Levert, the PAL program manager and training coordinator.

Levert shared key points of PAL training that anyone can use to help those around them.

1. Internal reflection is critical.

Think about your own life experiences and interactions — how you seek help or don’t seek help and where that comes from. It can help you be more empathetic when a friend has a hard time expressing their feelings.

2. Active listening goes hand-in-hand with motivational interviewing.

This is listening to understand rather than listening to respond. Take time to hear what the person is talking about. Pay attention to their tone and the type of language they’re using. Notice if they repeat certain things, and take note of what they’re not saying as well.

3. Motivational interviewing is a collaborative conversation.

You’re strengthening a person’s own motivation and commitment to change. To help them process their feelings and summarize their thoughts, use open-ended questions. One tool to try: DARN CATS.

DARN stands for Desire, Ability, Reason and Need.

  • Desire: “We want them to think why would they want to make this change? Get them to reflect on why this is important,” Levert said.
  • Ability: “How might you go about it to succeed?”
  • Reason: “What are three reasons to do it? Find those intentional reasons behind it all.”
  • Need: “How important is it to make this change and why?”

This helps your friend present the challenge they are facing and go through that internal reflection needed before they can take steps toward change. The next part, CATS, is about making a plan for action.

  • Commitment: Think about and plan for change.
  • Action: Adopt new habits.
  • Taking steps: And maintain new, healthier behaviors.

4. And for our final acronym, let’s look at OARS.

OARS stands for Open-ended questions; Affirmations; Reflections; and Summaries.

“After learning more about their desires, ability (and) reasons, we walk them through what they will need to do to make this commitment, some real action steps, and processing those steps together,” Levert explained.

  • Open-ended questions: Ask questions such as, “What have you already done to accomplish your goal?”
  • Affirmations: Help your friend identify the things they are doing well, and they will begin to see themselves in a different light. “A lot of times they’re feeling overwhelmed and stressed, so it’s hard for them to see any positivity to what they’re doing,” Levert said. “The fact they reached out shows bravery in itself.”
  • Reflections: Have your friend reflect on what they’ve done in the past that may reveal their strengths and skills. “Make statements that mirror what they are saying. It may allow them to realize they're stronger than they realized.”
  • Summaries: Recap what you’ve discussed and allow them to move forward to their next steps.

Sometimes just being that listening ear is all a person needs to get through the hard day. You can be that person!