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Care Calls: Tips for Providing Meaningful Help to Others in Crisis

Posted: 3/23/20 at 5:00pm. Written by Kristen Curtis, adapted from Crisis Care Team:  A Training Manual for Spiritual Care Providers; Dan Franklin, ed.  Copyright 2017 Texas Crisis Resiliency Team; Virginia Baptist Disaster Response Edition.

During this time of “social distancing” and quarantine, we have to find new and creative ways to care for the body of Christ. One suggestion I’ve heard is to have a small group intentionally connect with everyone in the church or to be sure to check in on those most isolated.

Much of what we train our Disaster Response Crisis Care Team to do in order to care for those affected by disaster can be translated well into “care calls” to those in need of support during this time. Below are several important things to keep in mind as you reach out to others with care during this time of crisis.

Listen well. One of the most important things you can do to support someone going through any crisis is to listen well. This means not going into the conversation with an agenda of your own but letting the person you are talking with set the tone of the conversation. Let them determine the focus. Keep in mind that whatever they are focused on or struggling with, even if it doesn’t seem important to you, is where they need support today.

Ensure confidentiality. You’ll want to communicate early in the conversation that you are a safe person to talk to (in general, this sounds like “anything you say to me I will keep confidential unless you disclose a plan to harm yourself or someone else or that you are being harmed, then I’ll need to get other people involved. Otherwise, you can feel free to share anything with me and I won’t repeat it.”) 

Show personal concern. Help the person in crisis recognize that you are concerned about them as an individual. Listen carefully and respond in ways that affirm you have heard them.

Direct the conversation toward specific help. Ask relevant, open-ended questions that encourage them to talk and help them think through the spiritual and physical resources available to them to cope with their particular circumstance.  Open-ended questions invite contemplation and conversation rather than one-word or yes/no answers. You could ask things like, “What concerns you the most right now?”  or “When you’ve faced hard times before, what got you through them? And then “How do you imagine you could adapt those concepts to this situation?” Avoid asking “why” questions, in general, as these can make people feel judged instead of supported.

Communicate respect, not pity. Everyone has resources they bring to the table. Help them identify these for themselves. Don’t judge people for approaching this situation differently than you would. We all have differing levels of ability to cope with isolation. Help the person you are ministering to find the best ways for them.

Use humor only if appropriate. It’s okay to laugh with someone if they use humor, but don’t initiate humor yourself (it can be seen as making fun or making light of a very difficult time).

Remember this is not about you. Recognize that this is not a usual two-way conversation; it is a care call, so keep your own storytelling and talking to a minimum. Your focus should be on the person on the other end of the call. Don’t get caught in the trap of trying to fix problems. The goal of a care call is to help the person connect with their own resources for coping and recovery, especially when you may not be able to be physically present.

Communicate encouragement. Don’t give “pat answers” to their problems; recognize this is a hard thing to deal with and be there with them in the struggle. Sometimes, a small success is the best cure to anxiety and depression. Are there actions they can take to care for themselves or someone else during this time? Are there resources they need to connect with or people they need to reach out to?

Anticipate needs. Responsive listening may include offering assistance when possible to meet expressed needs. It is helpful to anticipate the person’s potential needs so that you can have resources readily available for referral (during the quarantine period this might include locations for meal distribution or phone numbers of local people/organizations who can run errands or bring meals, options for online connections to worship services and Bible studies (and keep in mind they may need assistance setting up the ability to access those options), up-to-date information on how long quarantines are expected to last, current “rules” about social contact, etc).

Assure people they are not alone. Tell them they can reach back out to you or to members of our Crisis Care Team (by completing this brief form) or others they have identified as support people in their lives. And, of course, you can pray with them if they are open to it (but never force this on anyone). A good way to offer prayer is to say, “Would you prefer for me to pray with you now while we’re on the phone together or pray for you after we hang up?” Many will be encouraged by prayer together, but some may be uncomfortable with this option, and that’s okay.

Just showing another person that someone cares and is there to listen may be the biggest encouragement and resource you have to share!

Kristen Curtis is BGAV’s Training and Chaplaincy Coordinator for Disaster Response.