Seven common myths about helping

We all are helpers at times in our lives. We often help our children, our partner, parents, colleagues or friends in a variety of situations.

We all are helpers at times in our lives. We often help our children, our partner, parents, colleagues or friends in a variety of situations. Mythical beliefs about the process of helping can negatively affect both the helper and those being helped, so it's time for a Spring clean.

Myth 1: Helpers always solve people’s problems

  • Even very experienced helpers do not resolve all issues put to them;
  • Some queries or difficulties do not have an easy or quick answer;
  • Helpers own experience may or may not be sufficient to support person seeking help;
  • No helper will have all of the experience sufficient to provide a list of reliable solutions to the full range of common problems;
  • Solutions or change are not always possible; the helper’s role may be to enable the person to come to terms with the realities of their situation and/or to learn to live with it.
Myth 2: Helpers solve problems quickly
  • Most problems are not solved quickly;
  • The quick-fix approach tends to remove people’s individuality and reduces their circumstances or situation into ready-made categories;
  • Effective helpers use communication and listening skills to understand what people are expressing; this is a process and takes time;
  • What people’s real concerns are do not always emerge quickly.
Myth 3: Helping means telling people what to do or how to think – giving answers
  • Helpers do not necessarily have more experience than those they are helping;
  • Helping is not the same thing as telling people what to do or think;
  • Helpers may be tempted to prove their helpfulness by telling people what to do;
  • Helpers can be perceived as patronising and intrusive when they cut short a story with premature explanations e.g. ‘You know what this is really about….’
Myth 4: In order to help people you need age and wisdom
  • Increased age in years does not necessarily bring wisdom (sometimes it just brings greater conviction of being correct or having the right to tell younger people what to do);
  • Effective helpers draw on appropriate skills as well as experience gained over time;
  • Children and young people can also be supportive and genuinely helpful.
Myth 5: You can’t help unless you've been through the same experience
  • If this were true, helping services could not function;
  • Empathy and effective listening enable helpers to understand people’s unique experience;
  • Relevant experience can be helpful but is not essential for either practical help or an understanding of emotions.
Myth 6: In order to help people you need lengthy training
  • Effective helping does require some preparation, training and practice to improve the skills needed for the kind of help you will offer;
  • All helpers should continue to learn and take opportunities to extend their skills through training and reflection on their practice;
  • Some types of helping will require specific training in order to safely meet the needs of some people, but other types do not;
  • Effective helpers know the limits of their training and experience and have both the skills and confidence to refer on when appropriate.
Myth 7: Helpers never have problems themselves
  • It is human to have problems and doubts and even very experienced helpers will have some difficulties in their own lives;
  • Helpers often find that they have or have had personal difficulties in the very area in which they are working.
Friends are for helping
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