I OFTEN talk about phrases which get bandied around, that are not particularly helpful. Here’s one I do like. ‘A good listener is never without friends.’

When it comes to helping our friends, families or colleagues who may be struggling with their mental health, effective listening can be an invaluable form of support.

However, simply being present isn't enough. Mastering the art of ‘active listening’ can truly make a difference for someone going through a difficult time. I thought I would use this week’s column to explain things a little more.

Active listening goes beyond simply hearing someone speak. It's about fully engaging with the speaker, both verbally and non-verbally. It's about creating a safe space where they feel heard, understood, and validated.

• Give your full attention: Put away your phone, silence distractions, and make eye contact (not in an overwhelming way). Show them you're fully present and invested in their conversation.

• Focus on understanding: Don't jump to conclusions or formulate advice before they've finished speaking. Try your best to see things from their perspective.

• Use encouraging nonverbal cues: Nod your head, offer a warm smile, and maintain open body language. Let them know you're engaged and interested.

• Ask open-ended questions: Go beyond "yes" or "no" questions. Ask prompts like "Can you tell me more about that?" or "How did that make you feel?" to encourage them to elaborate.

• Reflect back: Summarise what you've heard to show you're paying attention and understanding. Phrases like "It sounds like you're feeling frustrated" or "That must have been a difficult situation" can be helpful.

• Avoid interrupting: Let them finish their thoughts before you interject. Your patience will demonstrate your genuine interest.

• Hold space for silence: Sometimes, silence speaks volumes. Don't feel pressured to fill every gap in the conversation. Allow them space to process their emotions.

• Validate their feelings: Don't minimise their experiences. Phrases like "It's okay to feel that way" or "That sounds really tough" can show empathy.

• Offer support, not solutions: Your role is to listen, not fix things. However, you can offer practical support like "Is there anything I can do to help?".

While these tips provide a strong foundation, remember that active listening is a skill that improves with practice. By honing your active listening skills, you can become a powerful source of support for the people who matter most to you. Remember, sometimes the most helpful thing you can do is simply lend a listening ear.

Martin Furber is a therapist. Contact: wellbeing@martinfurber.com

Please note: If you feel you are in a mental health crisis or emergency and may be in danger of causing harm to yourself or others then please contact your GP, go to A&E, call the Samaritans on 116 123 or text SHOUT to 85258