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February 2014


By Dorothea S. McArthur, Ph.D., A.B.P.P.

Everyone who finds the courage to start some psychotherapy tells me that they have been injured in some way. They share their selective perceptions and childhood misconceptions about why this betrayal happened. They generally take more of the blame for what happened than they deserve. In a nutshell, they hurt. They're afraid, due to feelings of low self-esteem, to do what they really want.

There are many ways for me to help. However, the single most important interaction I have to offer is support. Support builds self-esteem, an essential component for conducting a successful life. Through trial and lots of error, I have come to understand that support is:

*being consistently available on time
*holding an unwavering belief in someone else
*showing perseverance in helping others reach their own goals
*genuine caring
*careful listening
*accurately reflecting
*asking constructive, respectful, open-ended questions
*noticing what is right by looking at the glass of water as half-full rather than half-empty
*showing pleasure and giving genuine congratulations when progress is accomplished
*interacting creatively, thoughtfully and uniquely with each individual
*sharing a related personal story only when it contributes to clients’ comprehension about their life situation.
*setting appropriate limits
*noticing logical consequences
*being humorous in a positive way

Confrontation is the highest form of support. It is an interaction that asks another person if they can be better than they are now, and encouragingly asserts the belief that they can. However, confrontation holds risk in terms of losing the relationship if the person feels too vulnerable to receive it constructively. The danger of losing the relationship is minimized if the confrontation can be sandwiched between two valid and genuinely positive statements.

Giving support is like watering and feeding the soil around a plant that is beginning to droop. Support is not:

*using sarcasm
*being arrogant
*making demeaning remarks
*convincing another person to do something because it is really better for you, or enhances your own

Some persons believe and masquerade these actions as support. However, they are the opposite of support. They are like taking water and good soil away from a plant. These actions lower the self-esteem of both the person who is giving the action and the person receiving it.

The biggest gift we can give is to steadfastly believe that others can do whatever they need to do to survive and thrive, especially when the chips are down. Support offered is given in private moments; it's not for bragging or for someone else to hear. It is sustaining truth, delivered with perspective from someone who cares and knows.Support is gentle, providing a sense of safety that can go a long way to heal past wounds and allow bruises to disappear. There's nothing stronger than gentleness, working so much better than manipulating, controlling or pushing others to change in the way we might need them to be.

When I give support, I earn the trust to hear what it is really like to walk in someone else's shoes. From that experience, I gain the wisdom needed to support myself and the next person who walks across my path. Both the trust and learning are sufficient rewards.

This article is Chapter 20 of Dr. McArthur's book, Defining Moments, Breaking Through Tough Times, published by Cove Press, Los Angeles, and available through Amazon and other on-line retailers.


Dr. McArthur is a Clinical Psychologist in practice in Silverlake, Los Angeles. She is the President of the Independent Psychotherapy Network. Dr. McArthur can be reached at (323) 663-2340, through her website at, and by email at

Copyright 2014 by Dorothea S. McArthur


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