Even a small amount of training can teach people how to be more supportive when a friend or loved one confides in them a traumatic event or other type of mistreatment, suggests new research from the University of Oregon.
The research by Drs. Melissa Ming Foynes and Jennifer J. Freyd was published in a new American Psychological Association journal, Psychology of Violence.
“Friends and family are often the first to hear about experiences of mistreatment, yet many people have not received education or training in how to respond,” said Freyd, a UO psychology professor.
Disclosure of a traumatic event or abuse is believed to be a healthy step toward recovery. However, prior research has revealed that the way people respond to traumatic disclosures can have a huge influence on how the survivor heals from the negative event.
“Oftentimes people want to be supportive and are well-intentioned in their efforts, but without training they are not naturally able to provide support in a helpful way,” said Foynes, postdoctoral fellow at the National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder at the VA Boston Healthcare System.
“If survivors feel invalidated or hurt by others’ responses, they might choose not to share their experiences again, which may make it harder for them to receive help in their recovery.”
For the study, 110 pairs of university students participated with a friend or family member. Participants were asked to write about two experiences, not previously told to the partner, in which they felt mistreated by someone close to them. At random, one partner was designated as a “discloser” and the other a “listener.”
A trained research assistant then randomly chose one of these two events for the discloser to share with the listener. Afterward, participants completed a series of questionnaires regarding how they felt the disclosure went. Then they were given a handout with one of two types of information: supportive listening techniques or healthy lifestyle improvements. After studying the written materials and taking a short quiz on the information, the discloser was asked to share the second negative experience.
Results revealed that listeners who were given the skills-training materials describing supportive listening techniques showed far fewer unsupportive behaviors than listeners in the control group who had studied healthy lifestyle improvements. Also, listeners who had high levels of unsupportive behaviors during the first disclosure were helped the most from the training materials.
“These findings suggest that with only 10 minutes of training, supportive responses to disclosures of mistreatment can be enhanced significantly,” said Foynes. “At the same time, we do not believe that this training in and of itself is sufficient for helping people provide the level and quality of support survivors often need.”
The supportive-listening skills-training handout described both verbal and nonverbal ways of showing support. Suggestions were offered regarding body language and verbal responses that are most likely to be viewed as nonjudgmental and validating and encourage the discloser to continue sharing.
Results were based on how well the discloser felt the listener lent support while he or she shared the traumatic event; this provided insight into the interpersonal dynamic between the two.
“In this study, using disclosers’ perspectives to assess whether the training translated into actual behavioral changes was an important improvement upon past research,” said Foynes.
Source: University of Oregon