“It’s hard to accept that talking might have saved my brother.”

“He never told us that he was struggling.”

- Dr Alex George (Ex-Love Islander and Government Youth Mental Health Ambassador)

So maybe we are still too slow to respond to the need of people to be able to talk and be heard? And not only do we need to learn how to listen, but how to create the atmosphere where others feel it is ok to talk.

With all the current emphasis on mental health issues, maybe we assume that the only people who can help are ‘professionals’. But, with a few guidelines, we can all improve our listening skills, and might be amazed at the huge positive effects we can create.

Here’s how:

FIRST – Be aware of these basic helping skills:

  • Encourage people to start talking
  • Pay attention
  • Keep quiet – many people just need the opportunity to tell you what they are experiencing and we can be most helpful by just listening, and not leaping in with suggestions or reassurance, logic or even questions.
  • We can be very helpful by just providing a safe, receptive, and accepting environment.


  • Just listening can be really effective, but sometimes there’s a need to let the person know that you really DO understand. So you need to say something - but what?
  • It’s SO tempting to pour out your ideas and solutions – but think back to when someone jumped in with their answers to your problems, when you wanted to think of them yourself.
  • What you can do is......

Active Listening. This just means:-

Listening to what is said, then re-stating it in your own words - trying to include what they are feeling. This can be a one-off response or it might lead to the other person really talking through their problem and deciding what they will try and do about it. Even small children can do this!

This process, especially when new, does take a bit of effort and focus – remembering to concentrate on the other person’s experience and messages (you are checking with them that you have understood correctly) – and biting your tongue when it’s tempting to offer advice, reassure etc.

This is a skill that Professional Counsellors are trained in, and you can learn it with P.E.T.

What a way to really help, and show that you care!

Val Winfield