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How to Help a Friend Deal With Family Problems

by Elise Wile, studioD

Author Charles Dickens once said, "No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another." The trouble is that it is often difficult to know how to relieve someone's troubles. This is especially true when the problems a friend is experiencing have to do with his family. Even though you are somewhat distanced from the situation, you may be able to help. You may be able to provide the valuable perspective of a person outside of the situation while lending the ear that your friend almost certainly needs.

Listen to what your friend has to say about their situation. People in distressing circumstances need someone who will allow them to talk about their feelings while listening in a sympathetic way, according to psychology professor Stephen Joseph in a January 2013 article in "Psychology Today." Simply allowing your friend to vent about how their mother always attempts to make them the go-between between feuding family members can help them to sort out their feelings.

Brainstorm solutions with your friend, advises clinical psychologist Laura Smith in an April 2010 article on PsychCentral.com. When brainstorming, don't set any limits. Accept any idea that comes to mind as possibly viable. After you've finished brainstorming, discuss which ideas might work for your friend and their situation. This way, they will have several alternatives from which to choose.

Offer your friend a practical form of help. For example, if they tell you that their father is drinking heavily and sometimes comes home in a drunken rage, let them know that they can sleep on your couch when the going gets tough at home. If their mother is disabled and the house is a mess, offer to come over and help clean.

Give your friend information about helpful resources to help their family resolve its problems. If one of their family members is suffering from mental illness, for example, give them the number of a mental health organization such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness so that person can get the help they need. If the family is struggling to pay the bills, find out about organizations in your community that provide emergency help in such situations and provide their contact information.

Encourage your friend to seek professional help. While your friendship is invaluable, many dysfunctional family situations are difficult to repair. Your friend will likely benefit from the counsel of a psychologist or clergy member who has experience dealing with such matters.


  • Do not try to carry the responsibility for helping your friend alone. Once you have listened and offered what help you can, recognize that the outcome does not lay in your hands.

About the Author

Elise Wile has been a writer since 2003. Holding a master's degree in curriculum and Instruction, she has written training materials for three school districts. Her expertise includes mentoring, serving at-risk students and corporate training.

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