by Soozi Bolte, Psychotherapist and former MOPS International Board Member
When God brings hurting people into our lives, it is important to consider the type and amount of help we are able to give. Modeling appropriate boundaries and self-care is a more loving act than trying to help when the situation is beyond our skill set and expertise.
There is ample research to support the idea that many people with access to supportive relationships and a listening ear get better without professional help. MOPS is all about support and listening. In addition, MOPS offers the life-giving message of hope through Jesus Christ. This combination of supportive listening and God helps many moms find healing and hope. Often, that is enough. However, there are times when friendship and faith need to be linked with professional services.
Do No Harm
“Do No Harm” is a guiding principle for professional counselors, but it needs some explaining. While all your attempts to help a mom in a crisis situation are well-meaning, you may actually be causing harm if your care and concern are offered in place of needed professional help that will address root causes of an issue. How do you evaluate when supportive listening and gentle prompting is not enough and professional help is needed? To help you “do no harm,” consider your ability to be an effective caregiver by considering three aspects of the problem: severity, chronic condition, and compulsivity/impulsivity.
Severity of the problem is determined by the impact of a mom’s condition on her daily function and significant relationships. For example, if you notice a change in behavior related to hygiene, sleep patterns, care for children or isolation, these factors suggest a mom in significant distress. A thorough assessment by a professional is needed. Issues of safety must also be considered. Any individual at risk of endangering herself or others should be immediately referred for help. Domestic violence and child abuse or neglect are severe conditions. Also, if you notice that a problem is getting worse, not better, encourage professional help.
How long has the problem been going on? Symptoms such as anxiety, panic or sadness spanning months or years may best be treated by a professional counselor; a psychiatrist can assess the need for medication. Stories about lifetime loneliness, poor self-esteem or relational patterns that suggest abuse or limited support (i.e. few family or friends) also fit within this category.
Compulsive or Impulsive Patterns
Compulsive or impulsive patterns suggest the loss of control over a behavior, a thought or an emotion. These behaviors might include binge eating, debting, drinking, cutting, obsessive worry or fear. Sometimes, talking about the issue with a friend can generate hope for change because it reduces the fear and shame attached to such patterns. However, if short-term conversations are inadequate to help a mom regain control, encourage this mom to seek professional help for an evaluation. It is always important to encourage someone with obsessive thoughts and compulsive patterns to seek help because of the possible need for medication.
Even if you have successfully dealt with the issue your friend is struggling with, don’t assume that what worked for you will work for her. In the case of addictive cycles, it is easy to get pulled in as an enabler of the process. Loving detachment and a referral to a 12-step group and a qualified professional is the most effective course of treatment.
Article first published in Connections magazine.