Watching someone go through an emotional crisis can be painful and leave you feeling helpless. This is true whether that person is facing a particularly difficult immediate circumstance or is struggling with mental illness. Still, as you may have discovered, simply giving of yourself can be very helpful, even if you can’t solve the problem. Offering an ear to listen and a shoulder to cry on, and allowing your heart to break a little alongside theirs, can help lighten someone’s emotional load and give them the assurance that they’re not alone. Truly giving of yourself in this way is far from easy, so you may find it helpful to get guidance, such as what is offered by emotional CPR (eCPR).
Daniel Fisher, MD, PhD, executive director and CEO of the National Empowerment Center, developed eCPR along with 20 other people, who have recovered from psychiatric illnesses. Dr. Fisher explained, “I helped found NEC 25 years ago to give voice to persons with lived experience of severe emotional states often labeled as a form of mental illness. Their goal is to shift “the paradigm of mental health from a narrow medical description of problems and solutions to a holistic, trauma informed empowerment approach.” And it is used in a variety of situations, such as disaster relief, addiction, community health, and parenting. Emotional CPR is a far-reaching program, with trainings offered in the United States, Iceland, Scotland, Singapore, Australia, and Japan.
Though not easy, it is a simple method that has just three main steps and six intentions:
C – Connecting
This involves employing strong listening skills, being fully present, and helping the person in crisis feel safe. The assumption is that people are doing the best they can to handle a situation that is overwhelming for them and beyond their ability to effectively manage.
Intention: I will connect through feelings first by using my eyes, my ears, my heart, and my respect to feel your presence in my being.
Intention: As I feel your presence, I will stay with you sharing my feelings in being with you.
P – emPowering
This involves helping people to feel empowered, hopeful, and engaged in life.
Intention: I will BE WITH YOU without fixing, judging, or advising you.
Intention: I am not sure what is best for you; together we explore the unknown and we uncover our power.
Intention: Together, we access the power to heal that lies within us, finding our natural state of wellness.
R – Revitalizing
This involves supporting people in re-engaging in relationships with their support system, as well as developing (or returning to) a healthy lifestyle that facilitates healing and reinforces their sense of accomplishment.
Intention: We authentically create new life and new hope in the present moment, which is revitalizing.
By this method of engaging, you “act as a bridge between a person in distress and the community at large, assuring that important roles are not lost and the person in crisis reintegrates quickly back into the daily routine of everyday life.”
The eCPR approach is based on the premise that a “heart-to-heart” connection can support people through and out of an emotional crisis. While this is usually helpful, people may still need professional help. But even in these cases, the efforts of professionals are generally boosted by the support of caring family and friends. And that support can continue to help the suffering person even as they are helped by professionals. In fact, the aim of professionals is to eventually get them back to an emotional place where a caring support system is an integral part of a full and happy life.