For my response this week I selected Debbie Hall’s “The Power of Presence” from thisibelieve.org. This piece struck me because it relates to many of my own beliefs about how important the interactions between people are.
In this piece, Debbie Hall describes her experiences as a therapist, a friend and a colleague. While as a therapist it is her job to actively help her patients, she finds that just being there and doing nothing can also mean the world to someone. She explains the experience of providing relief for Hurricane Katrina with the Red Cross. She was sent there to evaluate victims of trauma and help survivors access the mental health services they needed. However, when she arrived she was greeted with an outpouring of gratitude, just for having cared enough to be there. Hall emphasizes the idea that we always feel like we need to “do” something in order to help someone, but that the act of just “being” – shouldering a friend’s burden, quietly listening and offering no judgement – can be just as powerful.
Hall describes the moment in which she came to the realization that “presence is powerful”: Hall received a phone call from a hospital where a friend’s mom had suddenly passed away. She began to agonize over what to do – she felt like she wanted to be there, but felt like there was nothing she could really do to help in a time like this. However, instead of deciding to stay away and leave her friend to mourn on her own, she decided to go, and to just sit with her. The realization that she didn’t need to “fix” anything in order to help others get through the moment changed her life.
I was struck by this essay because I have seen the reality of her message firsthand. I volunteer on a suicide and crisis hotline, and it has exposed me to the many hardships that others go through. We received extensive training in active listening and reflections, learned how to not give input or express opinions, and most importantly how to connect with callers and look after their safety. At first, it felt as though I would not be able to help anyone – I was not trained to administer therapy, or for that matter really do anything to make them feel better. However, I learned that I was not there to fix anyone’s problems or make them feel better. I was there to keep them going, to listen and to make them feel heard. I was there to tide them over until their next therapist appointment or get them to immediate medical attention. I will never forget how many callers have thanked me just for taking the time to listen and giving them warmth – it is what allows them to get through the next hour, the next minute, without the fear of doing it alone.
Debbie Hall’s essay “The Power of Presence” can be found at this link: http://thisibelieve.org/essay/6647/