In a previous post we discussed ways caregivers, friends, and family can provide emotional support to their loved ones. We specifically talked about how things like empathy, acceptance, and validation can go a long way in opening the doors to communication between you and your depressed friend or loved one. As a person who has been on both sides of that door as both a helper and as a recipient of help, I have come to some conclusions about which helping strategies are effective and which are not.
The thing to remember is that friends and family don’t always know how to help. They may be feeling confused, frightened, or frustrated by your symptoms of depression. Think of the conversation between the two parties as a work in progress. What can speed along this progress is for the depression sufferer to be candid and honest about what methods of support help and what doesn’t help. Speak up for yourself about what you want because you cannot depend upon others to read your mind. At the same time we also hope that family and caregivers become more educated about how to best interact and support their loved one with depression.
I am hoping that this post will be of benefit in this on-going and interactive process.
Three Ways Support Can Go Wrong:
I suppose there are many definitions out there for this term. It is sometimes used in talking about therapy as in a therapist has over-identified with their patient or client. Practice Central, a service of the APA Practice Organization, which provides “information and resources for practicing psychologists in all settings and at all stages of their career” gives this advice and guidance to therapists working with trauma victims:
“Therapists working with trauma survivors commonly experience a sense of over-identification with a client (Stamm, 1999). This can lead to a blurring of therapeutic boundaries, with the therapist relying on the use of advice giving, self-disclosure, and perhaps intentional contact with the client outside of therapy sessions.”
This is what happened to me in my last therapeutic encounter. My therapist wanted me to discuss the sexual abuse which happened to me when I was a young girl. But in doing so he began to take over the sessions with stories of his own sexual abuse and put feelings onto my experience which were not there. There was a overstepping of boundaries in his therapist role and I finally had to quit going to him for therapy because his over-identification was re-traumatizing me. But over-identification doesn’t just happen in the therapy-patient relationship. It also happens among friends and loved ones.
Over-identification to me means that the person attempting to give support is going beyond the realm of empathy and is projecting their own feelings and life experience onto the other person. What happens when over-identification taking place is the experience and feelings of the person suffering from depression get hijacked by the person giving support. The person helping may key in on certain words or experiences and begin telling their own story which may or may not relate to the person who needs support.