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Supporting People to Talk about Feelings

Introducing Siobhan

We would like to welcome Siobhan Quinn to our team. I have had the privilege of working alongside Siobhan for the last 5 years and I’m delighted she is joining us. Siobhan and I will be offering a number of joint initiatives including autism diagnostic assessments (ADOS) and below Siobhan talks about a new course written for support staff. Please contact us at for details of the course or assessments.


Over to Siobhan…

Supporting People to Talk about Feelings

I qualified as a counselling psychologist in 2007. Since then I’ve worked in a variety of settings including community settings, psychiatric hospitals and prisons. Regardless of the setting and population I’ve worked with, supporting people to talk about their feelings can cause a lot of anxiety in staff.

It is becoming more common for us to talk about our feelings. We often ask people how they are feeling. However, we usually get (and probably expect) a superficial answer of “okay” or “not bad, thanks, how are you?”

What if they’re not okay? What if they start to cry and tell us that they can’t cope? What if they become agitated and start to pace around the room? Or if they just completely shut down?

Working in mental health and social care, this can be a regular part of our job. However, often people don’t feel confident and equipped to manage it. We likely feel a burden or responsibility that we need to do something to make them feel better. But what??

Don’t panic! I want you to think of a situation in which someone was caring and compassionate to you when you were upset.

Think of what it is that they did and what helped to make you feel better.

You will probably find that they did most of the following.

- Listen to them. Sounds simple but it’s actually not. To just listen without interrupting, leading the conversation or telling the person that it’s going to be okay. Just listen.

- Help them to understand what they’re feeling. “you seem really sad”, “you seem really frustrated”. Often we are oblivious about what we are feeling until we reflect on it after. This can be even more difficult for people with learning difficulties or who have an autism spectrum disorder.

- Validate! This is so important. This is not about validating the facts of what they are saying. It’s about validating that it’s okay and understandable that they feel this way. When they start crying, we often get an urge to say “there, there” and hope they will stop crying. Try to do the opposite. Tell them crying is good and it’s ok and sit with them while they cry.

- Remind them that you are there and will help them through this. They are not on their own with this. Even if they are too upset to speak, just being in the room with them can be very containing for them.

- If you think that they might be too overwhelmed by the emotion (e.g. becoming panicked or aggressive), help them to regulate. Tell them that you are going to support them to regulate and talk them through some coping skills. This could be anything from holding ice to listening to music to have a cup of tea together. Try to encourage them to slow their breathing. Reassure them that it will be okay and you’re there to guide them through this.

You do not need to do all of this. Any one of these points is probably enough. Enough for the person to feel cared for and safe. Enough for them to not feel confused and alone with how they are feeling.

Alison Matthews and I facilitate a training course on ‘Supporting People to Talk about Their Feelings’ which is aimed at support workers, carers and families of people with learning disabilities and/or autism. This is a two hour course which goes into more detail on the above points and provides a number of strategies and resources to make talking about feelings more accessible.

Siobhan Quinn

Counselling Psychologist


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