How do you express your support to someone who is reeling from a traumatic experience? There are things you can do for the other person as well as for yourself.

1. If your loved one has been threatened with physical harm or death, you can experience that as a trauma. Hearing about or seeing what your loved one survived can be very distressing to you. Take care of yourself or you will not be able to help the survivor. Get support for yourself from others, not the survivor. It is important for you to keep in touch with other friends, family members, or supportive people.

2. Get as much information as you can about trauma and its impact. Read or talk to a professional to gain a better understanding of the survivor’s reactions.

3. Ask the survivor how you can be helpful, and then really try to do it. Everyone’s response to trauma is different. Everyone’s needs following trauma are different. Do not assume that you know what the survivor needs.

4. Try to stay available to the person. Follow their lead in conversation. Sometimes just making small talk about the “normal” things in life can be a great comfort. Listen should they want to talk about painful experiences; being able to just listen is a tremendous gift you can offer. Trauma survivors can feel isolated; having even one person who can be there with them significantly helps the healing.

5. Don’t try to fix the person’s problems, or make the feelings go away. The survivor is likely to think you cannot tolerate those feelings. He or she may then try to conceal them. This may create more distance in your relationship.

6. Help the survivor find other resources, such as a support group, psychotherapy, or relevant professionals in the community. If you know of someone who has had a similar experience, you might suggest the survivor speak with that person. There might be other supportive people in the survivor’s existing social network with whom it might be helpful to talk (for example, a trusted friend or family member). Provide suggestions and offer to assist in any way you can, but don’t push. Remember number 3 above, and don’t assume you know better than the survivor what is needed.

7. If you do not live with the survivor, try to maintain some connection, even if it’s just an occasional supportive phone call or note.

8. Try to be patient. Healing from trauma takes time.

Copyright © 2010 The Guilford Press. All rights reserved. Reprinted here with permission.