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A manual on how to comfort people in difficult situations

Image credit: Priscilla Du Preez

Darko Savic
Darko Savic Jul 04, 2021
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The idea is to create a series of booklets/manuals on what to say to people in difficult situations. Maybe a chapter or two about relevant psychology followed by a collections of sentences to actually say to people when they are in a horrible situation. A few book title examples:

  • How to convey bad medical news to adults
  • How to convey bad medical news to kids
  • How to inform family members of someone's death
  • How to break up with a partner who loves you
  • and so on..
The 2nd part of this idea is to open source the book, so that anyone can add their best contributions. For example, doctors, police, psychologists from all over the world may have a lot of experience conveying bad news to people. It would be a great manual if someone was able to collect best of the best from all corners of the world.
Creative contributions

Leaving room for spontaneity

Povilas S
Povilas S Jul 06, 2021
I like the idea and I think those manuals are a real need because I've been in situations myself (perhaps most of us have?) where I felt like comforting someone, but just didn't know what to say and couldn't come up with something spontaneously, stress also adds to this.

But there's a disadvantage to the manuals which should also be considered, that is, if they became popular enough, people would be often conveying "book knowledge" in the process of comforting someone and this takes away the truthfulness of the act. They might even start considering what would be better - to say something the "professionals" advice or to say something that they actually feel like saying. Also, the person facing the difficult situation would probably have read those manuals too and would know when the other is using something from the book to comfort them, that wouldn't cause a good reaction.

Comforting is supposed to be authentic and it works the best if the person talking can truly relate to the situation of the other and say something from their own experience and understanding. The person in need can 100% distinguish that kind of honesty from simply efforts to comfort for the sake of comforting. I'm not saying the latter is not important, just that the former is more effective and more truthful.

So my bottom line is that manuals would be good if used in the same manner that lists of ideas can be used for igniting your own creativity. After reading many suggestions for various situations and real-life experiences of others you'd have a broader view in that area and have something to choose from to adapt to specific circumstances, but manuals shouldn't be taken too literally, the readers should be encouraged to prioritize authenticity and spontaneity, their own truthful insight.
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salemandreus3 years ago
Povilas S this is possibly where option B of my suggestion might be useful in using the short animated video format, similarly to the example I linked there as that format is great for maximising empathy and core understanding and conducive to sparking unique dialogue rather than sounding scripted, which would hopefully instill the right guidance on the situation without coming across rehearsed.
I think this is why social impact spaces and company marketing use this format, as it sums up the core feelings and the intended message behind them without getting caught up in the textbook phrasing, which can actually serve as a barrier to understanding particularly if one is less academically inclined.

I would say this depends on the target audience (general everyday people or people wanting to build into a dedicated counselling career?) and intended tone being conveyed.

For myself, when I've spoken to friends it's been to get a different type of support to when I've spoken to psychologists, I've expected a lot more empathy from the former and also a lot more personal relating to and support of who I am and tended to find it distancing to be pathologised. I've especially had problems with being treated as a "case" the moment one of my issues checked a box on the psychological-symptoms-to-look-out for list, and people's responses towards me tended to change when that happened, due to the popular psychology they'd read, where what I wanted was to maintain agency of my situation but have the necessary emotional support, with the other person showing sensitivity and awareness. Being treated according to a template (the signs of which often seem obvious to me even if I haven't read the same literature as people's demeanor changes from relating to clinical) is a big warning sign for me when reaching out to friends, rather I look for signs that the person acknowledges for who I still am despite a difficult situation, to ensure I'm being treated as an individual.
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Darko Savic
Darko Savic3 years ago
True. However, when dealing with a professional like a doctor, a nurse, police, etc, I think nobody would resent them for using "textbook" material to comfort patients, victims, etc. They are expected to be the best at it.

When you suddenly find yourself in a horrible situation I think chances are low that you've already read the manuals that would be used on you
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Povilas S
Povilas S3 years ago
Darko Savic I understood that your idea is to make such manuals widely available for the general public and sort of popularise them, in that case, anyone who read the manuals could still found themselves in a difficult situation in need of comforting (maybe it would help you to better deal with your own psychology, but then you'd know if someone else was using a manual material to comfort you). If the manuals were intended for certain professionals only, then it's a different case
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Short animated videos or Crash-course-like videos on Youtube

salemandreus Jul 09, 2021
With the challenge of competition for the attention economy I think it'd be ideal to make this into a short animated or partially-animated video format.
This also has the benefit of multisensory learning, simultaneously benefitting from animation's ability to engage the human mind as well as potentially using audio and text.

It also really helps those of us who struggle to get through text in general even if we do find the time.
There are two main formats for this that come to mind for me as I find them particularly acessible when it comes to understanding new information:

A) Crash-course style entertaining-yet-easy-to-understand academically structured videos Crash Course provides an excellent format for education which my ADHD brain has actually been able to follow and understand better than most educational videos, due to the skillful interweaving of information, animated story-visualisations of trickier concepts, supportive visual effects such as the displaying of key technical terms onscreen in animated text to foreground them, and the use of entertaining dialogue and relevant jokes and examples to keep the viewer's attention on the subject matter, also as a way for the viewer to sense-test their understanding.
Here is an example of one of their psychology course videos.

The reason I recommend Youtube is simply because it's so ubiquitous with videos (having to download and install a particular course platform is also a barrier to entry so if it can be avoided it's ideal) but I'm certainly not recommending limiting them to only one platform.

They also have an optional app which supports their course videos with flash cards. If you're seeking a longer format explanatory video I'd recommend including timestamps in the description. Ideally though, where possible short videos in a playlist such as Crash Course have done, rather than longer videos, can motivate people to start watching them - and the animation format can be surprisingly engaging to keep them watching. This tactic of using shorter chunks of information to encourage the user to proceed is an trick of UX design as well, where it's now common practise to paginate longer sign-up forms by small sections and to have progress buttons - a user is more likely to sign up step by step process which appears short, than fill in a large daunting form all at once.

B) Short animated videos for empathetic tone and to grab attention Alternatively, a format like this 3:40 min one can be helpful if the desired format is to be briefer and more empathetic through optimising multimedia resources in the minimal amount of the viewer's time to get them up to speed - as opposed to Crash Course's more academically-yet-accessibly structured approach these are optimal for conveying core facts and general understanding rather than deep dives.
They are particularly helpful in solving the attention economy problem, hence being a favoured format to raise awareness on social issues.
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Darko Savic
Darko Savic3 years ago
It could also be a tik-tok channel enacting the bad situations and the comforting words that could be said
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General comments

Spook Louw
Spook Louw3 years ago
Technically, we'd be able to do something like that through a series of brainstorming sessions. Perhaps if you create a different session per situation and we get the right people to contribute, those sessions can either be shared as is, or compiled into curated pieces.
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