How to Help a Friend


One of the main reasons students describe their college years as exciting and highly memorable is due to the special friendships created during those times. Whether meeting such friends through courses, living in a residence hall or off-campus apartment, a social event, or mutual friends, the bond between college friends is unique. College friends learn together how to successfully deal with stressors often associated with college life, such as balancing academic work loads and job schedules, developing a personal identity away from home, being introduced to new cultures and ideas, etc. They also see each other through difficult times, like the break-up of a relationship and dealing with family concerns back home.

Naturally, you want to be a good friend for those you care deeply about. This includes:

  • Wanting to make sure you are being helpful.
  • Wanting to make sure you say the right things and not be offensive.
  • Wanting to be available in times of need.
  • Not intruding on a friend’s privacy and keeping things confidential.

However, you may find yourself feeling overwhelmed and stressed doing the above. There may be times you may be unsure how to help with the particular issues your friend is dealing with. You may not know how to talk about certain concerns. In the process of helping your friend, you may find yourself neglecting your own needs and responsibilities. You may make promises of confidentiality when in fact your friend needs outside help to resolve his/her concerns.

This page will provide some general guidelines to keep in mind when helping your friends through difficult times. The recommendations are meant to show your friends how much you are genuinely concerned about their well-being. The suggestions are also important because they will help you realize you cannot solve every problem for all people and that you need attention too. They will show you how you can be most helpful to your friend by involving the appropriate people to assist in resolving your friend’s concern.


Things You Can Do To Help A Friend

Whether friends approach you about a problem they are having or you want to approach them about something you are concerned about, keep in mind the following important general guidelines when you are helping a friend.

Find a PLACE that is private and comfortable. People are usually more receptive to being helped and will listen  more to what you have to say when nobody else is around.  Also make sure both of you have the time and are not rushed or preoccupied.

Be SPECIFIC about why you are concerned. Tell your friend what you have observed recently, such as him/her eating less, missing classes, not attending floor meetings, etc.

LISTEN. People who are in need benefit most from a friend who actively listens to their concerns. Do not rush to fix, advise, correct, or disagree with your friend; just listen. In being an active listener, look at your friend directly, ask his/her to clarify things you do not understand, summarize what your friend says to you in order to be sure there is mutual understanding, and ask questions to help your friend take a closer look at what he/she is saying. Once you have listened to your friend and he/she feels understood by you, your friend will likely be more receptive to hearing your ideas and advice.

VALIDATE. Understand and acknowledge your friend’s current distressing situation and how your friend feels about the situation. Validation often calms people because they no longer have to convince the listener they have a problem that is serious to them. Therefore, do not say things such as, “Don’t worry about it,” or “Everything will be better tomorrow.”

AVOID judging, evaluating, and criticizing, even if the student asks your opinion. These behaviors will likely push your friend away. Remember to see your friend’s distressing situation from his/her perspective and reality.

Develop OPTIONS. Brainstorm with your friend some possible ways of resolving the issue and suggest various resources to obtain further help, such as friends, family, clergy, RAs/GAs, or professionals on campus. This can assure the student things can get better and things will not always seem hopeless.


Know Your Limitations

There may be situations where outside help needs to become involved. Good examples of such situations include, but are not limited to:

  • When your friend expresses thoughts or desires to hurt themselves or someone else.
  • If your friend has been acting differently than usual, such as not engaging in their usual activities and appearing depressed, agitated, and anxious.
  • Your sense, however vague, that something is seriously amiss.

There are professionals on campus that you can turn to when these situations arise, and when you feel overwhelmed and become involved beyond what seems comfortable and appropriate. These individuals include your House Dean, RA/GA, and a CAPS counselor. It is important you realize you are indeed helping your friend by getting these individuals involved because it requires their knowledge and experience.


You May Need Help Too

In your attempt to be helpful to a dear friend in a difficult situation, you may find yourself unsure what to say in order to be most helpful or you have helped in every way possible but your friend just does not want help. Keep in mind the following guidelines when such situations occur.

CONSULT when in doubt of how to help or to discuss the appropriateness of your intervention. You can consult your House Dean, RA/GA, and a CAPS counselor any time. These individuals can provide suggestions of other ways you can be most helpful to your friend.

Remember to TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF. Your role is to provide support; it is not to be a hero. In your desire to show a friend you care, you may begin feeling stressed because you are taking on too much responsibility and placing more effort than necessary. It is vital that you attend to your own needs. Do not let the situation cause you to start doing poorly in school, have health problems, or take basic enjoyment out of your own life. Remember that you can be most helpful by expanding your support system and talking to your House Dean, RA/GA, and a counselor.


Consultation with Student Counseling

There are several reasons why you may want to consult with a counselor regarding your friend. After reading this brochure, you still may have questions of how to best talk to your friend about your concerns. You may feel the type of help your friend needs is out of your realm of knowledge and experience. You may also find yourself too stressed and overwhelmed with the help you are providing. A counselor can help in these and other related situations. Visit or call The Student Counseling Center and ask for the on-call counselor.


Making A Referral To the Student Counseling Center

Your friend may be struggling with issues that can best be resolved by having your friend talk to a counselor. Therefore, suggesting counseling to your friend can often times be the best thing you can do for your friend. Here are some suggestions of how to refer someone you love to counseling at the Student Counseling Center.

  1. ASSURE your friend that resolving the issue through counseling, facing oneself, and acknowledging one’s limitation are all signs of strength and courage, rather than signs of weakness or failure.

2.    SHARE your own positive counseling experiences, if applicable

3.    Offer to WALK with your friend to the Student Counseling Center or CALL 215 951-1355 together to schedule an  initial appointment.

 4.    Know INFORMATION ABOUT the STUDENT COUNSELING CENTER  that may further convince your friend to seek help.

5.    Consider making an appointment yourself to talk with one of the counselors.  Being concerned about a friend can be stressful.  You may benefit from support, too.