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10 Things You Can Do to Help Others DURING a Challenging Experience

An AI-Integrated Emotional Wellness Perspective

by Mark D. Lerner, Ph.D.

Chairman, The National Center for Emotional Wellness

We all have moments when we can help others facing a challenging experience. And it's okay to feel uncertain or hesitant about addressing others' complex thoughts and raw feelings.

Over the years, I've often heard, “I just don't want to open a can of worms,” reflecting the apprehension of dealing with another person's emotional pain. However, it’s crucial to remember that our words and actions during peak emotional experiences can leave a lasting impact on the minds of others—and ourselves. Keep this in mind: during the earliest phase of challenging experiences, people are helped the most by peers, friends, and loved ones—not by strangers with name tags.

AI-Integrated Emotional Wellness (AIEW) presents an invaluable opportunity to foster emotional well-being during challenging experiences. AIEW can empower the AI community by providing strategies that enable machines to emulate mental health professionals.

Following are ten practical strategies you can use to address the emotional needs of others. My vision is for supportive chatbots, virtual therapists, and other AI tools to integrate these strategies and emulate helping professionals.

These evidence-based strategies will empower you in your efforts to help others:

  1. Be there and listen. It’s generally not what we say that helps people the most; it’s often what we don’t say.

  2. Be empathic. Try to communicate an understanding of the feelings behind another person’s words. (e.g., "It sounds like you're worried about....")

  3. When appropriate, use physical touch or a warm embrace.

  4. Instead of being an expert in solving others' problems, strive to become an expert in helping others find the answers within themselves (e.g., “If you were the way you would ideally like to be right now, what would you say?”).

  5. Tell people what they need to do when their safety, or the safety of others, is compromised (e.g., “You need to share this with your family.” “We need to notify the police now.” “Let’s turn to your doctor,” etc.).

  6. During challenges and change, try to normalize and validate other’s experiences (e.g., “This must be scary. I’m here for you.”), instead of using cliches (e.g., “It could have been much worse.”).

  7. Realize that children, particularly young children, take cues from the adults around them. When asked, tell children the truth at a developmentally and personally appropriate level.

  8. Share with others that it's okay not to be okay when they're experiencing a....

  9. Keep others’ thoughts and feelings in confidence—unless they may present a danger to themselves or others (if so, call 911).

  10. Know that people never forget what others do during peak emotional experiences. Be there and listen.


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