Intentional Peer Support vs. Advice Giving: A FaceBook Dialogue

September 11, 2017

The best advice I ever got was that knowledge is power and to keep reading.    ~David Bailey  

 What most people need is validation, not advice.   ~Me

4 tasks of peer support: connection, world view, mutuality, moving towards.    ~Anonymous

A Facebook friend posted about her feelings of frustration when she tried to give another friend advice.  What resulted was a really long and thought provoking post.  I asked my friend if I could post our exchanges on my blog, as I think we talked about some really important concepts.  There were a lot more people commenting than just me and her but if I posted the whole, entire conversation, I think people would roll their eyes at such a long post.  For the most part, I have simply summed up my friend’s comments and have shortened some of mine.  The point is not our exact words but the general message behind them.  
Friend: I tried to give advice to a person who is constantly negative and they did not appreciate it.

Me: What the person was looking for was validation, so giving advice was not going to be appreciated no matter how much you may want to give it.  Best response is “that sounds hard,” and then to drop it.

Friends: You’re right, the person was looking for validation, but not giving advice is hard.

Me: It’s a hard lesson to learn but I've had to learn it on my job as a Certified Peer Specialist. One of my duties is to talk on the warmline where people call for support. We're actually not allowed to give advice, although we can say what worked for us if asked. I say the phrase, "That sounds hard," a lot. In my own experience, I've found that sometimes it was years of searching for validation until I finally got to the point that I realized I needed to change. It's a hard lesson to realize that there are many pathways to recovery and that everyone comes to their solution in their own time, but it's essential in order to not get caught up in one's ego. For me, it's all about myself - I will detach from a friend if I find I'm getting resentful or am draining energy, but I am really trying not to give advice anymore unless asked. I just say, "that sounds hard," and "you can do it," and then leave the conversation if a person isn't looking for solutions. (when it comes to friends, of course. I can't leave my job. lol). Giving advice is all about controlling someone else's situation and that's really not my job but theirs. Not feeling like I have to fix people frees up my energy in a big way. 

Friend: Thank you for making me think about things….

Me: ha you're welcome! I'm certainly not perfect in it myself, yet. I have to watch that I don't say, "this is what has worked for me..." in a manipulative way, as in, "so it's what I think you should do too..." Easier to talk about than practice!

Friend: Good point! I suggested to the other person to make a gratitude list…

Me: HA. I used to hate it when people told me to make a gratitude list and now I make them all the time. However, telling someone to be grateful when they're depressed comes off as very off-putting even if you're right. One way that I can slip in advice if I really feel the need is to provide it after validation (which is not the same as saying you agree). An example:

"I used to struggle with feeling that way too. I used to constantly compare myself to others and I thought life was really unfair. One day I realized that even the people that look perfect have something big that they are probably hiding. I've found that looking for one thing that is going right even amidst all the chaos helps me feel like all is not doomed. I still struggle with personal pity parties sometimes but remembering what I am actually good at helps me feel better about myself again." 

People will be much more likely to listen if you state the advice as coming from your own experience and if you're real about how you relate to it in some way. People listen to authenticity, not to platitudes. Rarely does just suggesting making a gratitude list go over well with anyone who is struggling with negativity. Six years ago, I would have probably stopped talking to you if you had suggested it to me. lololol

(I kept going…)
Intentional peer support is all about building a connection. Once you make a connection, the magic starts.  Intentional Peer Support is used by both CPS and CARES. CPS - Certified Peer Specialist; CARES - Certified Addiction Recovery Empowerment Specialist - The only mental health certifications that are based on lived experience rather than a college degree. It's fantastic stuff and being a CPS has enabled me to grow in my recovery and how I relate to my peers in a way nothing else has.

Friend: Cool!  I have a fascination with neuroplasticity, neural regeneration, over-imprinting, etc. and I like to share that with people.  It’s changed my life.

Me: The last thing is that your suggestion of the gratitude list totally reminds me of a funny story. Six and a half years ago, I was a totally different person, very very negative, in treatment. One day, we were told to say one thing that we were grateful for and I could not think of a thing. I was not happy to be alive. I was not grateful for any of the things that I knew logically I was supposed to be grateful for. When it came to my turn, I said, "family" because it was the first thing I thought of and I knew people wouldn't argue with me but I wasn't! I mean, I have a wonderful, supportive family, but I was so depressed that I felt no gratitude towards anything. It makes me laugh now that there was a time when I felt the need to make up stuff to be grateful for because I could not feel it at all anywhere and trying to explain that to people that didn't get it was too much. When my therapist explained to me that some people have to practice being grateful before they can actually feel it, did the practice of a gratitude list make more sense. Practicing mindfulness was one of the main ways that I started being able to experience gratitude again - I bet your neuroplasticity stuff says a lot about mindfulness! Now I text two people every day with one thing that I am truly grateful for and it's often hard to narrow it down just to one. lol

Friend: That is so wonderful and uplifting to hear about your experience and the tools you used to shift and change yourself/your life! Depression can be such a difficult challenge to work through. Esp because it requires doing things that are the absolute opposite of what you feel like doing (or even feel that you can do). I agree with what you pointed out - feelings follow actions (and shifted thoughts). Much of what we experience is centered around choice. Some people do not react well to that concept, while others find it empowering. And I love what you point out about personality being malleable. The brain is quite dynamic and malleable as well. About 90% of what we now know about the brain was discovered in the last 10-15 years, and it negates much of what was previously thought. Imaging technology and the ability to more accurately measure wavelengths, etc has brought us so far. Yet we have so far to go, which I find exciting! (Wave types/lengths are incredibly fascinating. These reveal things such as why you can 'feel it' if you are, for example, standing next to an angry person in the store and you don't even have to look at them to feel their anger. And the most powerful wavelengths are not emitted from the brain, which seems how it would be. The most powerful/influential wavelengths are actually emitted from the heart center, and can extend to approx a 60 ft radius! Isn't that amazing??) 
In another conversation, I talked about how medication is not a simple conversation.  People are often overmedicated, however, there is a stigma both for and against taking it that makes me hesitant to say any sweeping generalizations either way about what is good or bad in regards to it.  I did find this interesting scholarly article about how taking antidepressants can help the mind more clearly think and so then can actually help the person be able to move in ways that increase their neuroplasticity.  It is true that many people are prescribed too much, especially in the beginning.  I think what people often miss in these conversations though is that in my experience, people are usually able to lower their dosages, or even get off them completely, as they gain more and more competence in skills over time.  In order to gain the ability to be able to learn skills though, one often does need medical intervention, at least in the beginning, to clear the head and be able to focus in the first place.  I think good meaning people often make the mistake of thinking that a severely depressed or anxious person can learn skills if they just try hard enough or push through.  I know for me though that when severely depressed and anxious I need extra help in order to do any of these things.  In any case, it is ultimately not my job to promote medication or non-medication in any way, but to support the specific needs and wishes of the individual peer.

Don't listen to people who tell you what to do.  Listen to people who encourage you to do what you know in your heart is right.  ~ Anonymous

Link Love:

Brain Pickings

26-Year-Old Frida Kahlo’s Compassionate Letter to 46-Year-Old Georgia O’Keeffe

Literary Hub
by Helen Sword

Psychologist Carol Dweck distinguishes between people with “a fixed mindset,” who believe that talent is a finite commodity, and those with a “growth mindset,” who believe that our innate talents can and should be stretched, challenged, and changed. For fixed-mindset people, Dweck explains, “effort is a bad thing. It, like failure, means you’re not smart or talented. If you were, you wouldn’t need effort.” For growth-mindset people, on the other hand, “effort is what makes you smart or talented.” 

The First White President by Ta-Nehisi Coates

To Trump, whiteness is neither notional nor symbolic but is the very core of his power. In this, Trump is not singular. But whereas his forebears carried whiteness like an ancestral talisman, Trump cracked the glowing amulet open, releasing its eldritch energies. The repercussions are striking: Trump is the first president to have served in no public capacity before ascending to his perch. But more telling, Trump is also the first president to have publicly affirmed that his daughter is a “piece of ass.” The mind seizes trying to imagine a black man extolling the virtues of sexual assault on tape (“When you’re a star, they let you do it”), fending off multiple accusations of such assaults, immersed in multiple lawsuits for allegedly fraudulent business dealings, exhorting his followers to violence, and then strolling into the White House. But that is the point of white supremacy—to ensure that that which all others achieve with maximal effort, white people (particularly white men) achieve with minimal qualification. Barack Obama delivered to black people the hoary message that if they work twice as hard as white people, anything is possible. But Trump’s counter is persuasive: Work half as hard as black people, and even more is possible.

One comment on “Intentional Peer Support vs. Advice Giving: A FaceBook Dialogue”

  1. I think that this post was inspiring. For me what helps when a friend has an issue or a situation, is telling a story, sharing an experience with that person and letting them choose what they like or do not like within that story as it pertains to the issue indirectly. However, they have come many situations where I have given advice thinking it would solve the issue but really it was a point of view. The issue was still there and the opinion came as authoritarian or subjective. I have to work on that. I think it's very interesting. We should not give advice unless someone seeks for it and asks us to. But really, what position are we really in to pose such terms?

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