Listen: Former phone counsellor and author, Mark Elder, chats to Laura & Duncan
“The best thing you can do when you’re listening to people is just give them space to talk, not solutions.” That’s the advice of Mark Elder, the author of Get Yourself From Crisis to Coping.
To mark ‘R U OK Day’, Hope 103.2’s Laura and Duncan caught up with Mark for a few tips on how to cope with – and help others cope with – the changing seasons of life. A former telephone counsellor, Mark is trained in listening and helping people work through their ‘tough stuff ‘, and is passionate about seeing people handle life’s challenges better.
“I was trying to help a lot of friends who were cornering me at parties at 3 o’clock in the morning, saying, ‘My life is hell, what can I do about it?’” said Mark. “So I started putting together some stuff and realised I had a book—I had a lot of tips that people can use, to learn how to cope.”
Why Men Struggle With Feelings
Mark said men tend to struggle with difficult emotions in particular, as they aren’t as familiar with talking things through as women.
“It’s a huge issue with young men because they often get so overwhelmed with their emotions and they think that this is how it’s going to be the rest of their lives, which is why suicide is such a huge thing,” he said.
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“We’re all afraid of our emotions, and of our ‘feelings about feelings’. If you get angry, then you get disappointed in yourself, then you get angry because you think ‘why should I be disappointed in myself’’. It’s like a continuous feedback loop, feelings pizza.”
His biggest advice is that people practice having a balanced life in the good times, so that when hard times hit, they know what to do.
“The best thing I can tell everyone is, when things are going well, do some work on yourself,” he said. “Do some exercise, learn how to sit next to your emotions. Don’t avoid those hard questions.”
Ask Your Friends How They Are—Then Listen!
As for those who want to be a good friend to someone who’s struggling, Mark said the biggest key is to be a good listener.
“One of the biggest things that I learnt from phone counselling is most people are unheard, and they don’t feel validated,” he said. “They start to tell people something, and [their friend] jumps in instantly with solutions, or ‘yeah, yeah, that happened to me’.
“One of the biggest things that I learnt from phone counselling is most people are unheard.”
“The best thing you can do when you’re listening to people is just give them space to talk, not solutions. Feed back to them, with, ‘So it sounds like you’re feeling like such and such.’
He said getting emotions out, and “being heard and not judged”, is very healing.
“People know their own stories and if you help them to process it they’ll be able to find some of their own answers,” he said. “But jumping in with solutions before you know what the real problem is counterproductive.
Mark added that if you’re losing energy, losing focus, no longer caring about the things you used to enjoy, or becoming irritable, and those are becoming your daily normal, then it’s time to seek help such as counselling.
If you’re struggling or need someone to talk to, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.