How Do I Help My Client Make Friends?

Let’s face it, making friends can be super challenging for children and adults. When a person has cognitive impairment, connecting with others can feel like an almost impossible task. Fear not, it is possible to have friends even with cognitive impairment. Here are some ways therapists can help their clients make friends. 

  1. Encourage your client to rekindle old friendships

People often think making friends is just talking to people. Really, meeting new people is 20% talking and 80% listening. You can help your client find common ground with new people by teaching them how to ask appropriate questions regarding someone’s life and interest., For example, you can encourage your client to practice asking questions like “what are your favorite hobbies?” or  “what books have you read recently?”. You also may want to work with your client on executive functioning, working memory, and auditory processing skills to help your client learn to wait to speak, retain information during a conversation, and be able to respond with thoughtful comments when engaging with new and current friends.

2. Work with your Client to Find Common Ground and Be All Ears

People often think making friends is just talking to people. Really, meeting new people is 20% talking and 80% listening. You can help your client find common ground with new people by teaching them how to ask appropriate questions regarding someone’s life and interest., For example, you can encourage your client to practice asking questions like “what are your favorite hobbies?” or  “what books have you read recently?”. You also may want to work with your client on executive functioning, working memory, and auditory processing skills to help your client learn to wait to speak, retain information during a conversation, and be able to respond with thoughtful comments when engaging with new and current friends.

3. Help your client “open up”

After life alternating occasions, such as a stroke or brain injury, people can close themselves off and be less vulnerable. Two common reasons why people may do this: 

  1. Your client may feel like another person will not understand their feelings. 
  2. Your client fears that the trauma they experienced is too much to share.

For many people that have a neurological or psychiatric condition, attending a support group can provide your client with a sense of community. Developing support groups allow your patients to meet other people like them. People who are experiencing the same life struggles as your client can help them feel comfortable trusting others and sharing their own experiences. Support groups help people work on developing the trust and confidence they need to share their thoughts and feelings more openly. This aspect of support groups is very important when your client is readjusting to their life. 

4. Teach them that planting seeds of friendship require watering

It’s not enough to meet people once to develop a relationship. Friendships require work from both people. This looks like checking in through text, calling, social media, or dropping by. With your client, you can help them identify friendships they want to build, maintain, and develop. If your client has difficulty remembering to keep in touch with others, you can help them do so by teaching them to set reminders on a calendar or smartphone to prompt them to reach out.

5. Be on the lookout for your client’s interests

Your client may enjoy one or several activities. For everyone’s interests, there are groups available where people can meet that share common interests. Intramural sports leagues, art classes, music groups, and more are offered throughout communities. During your sessions with your client, ask them, and listen to what their interests are. You can work with them during a session on how to navigate social media and their community to find special interest groups where they can connect with others. That way, your client can find some starting points in their life where they can connect with new people. 

6. Work on Cognitive Skills

Many people that have neurological, psychiatric or age-related cognitive impairments work with a licensed clinician on improving their cognitive functioning. A common goal many clients may have but do not voice is the desire to build friendships. The skills needed to build friendships involve a mixture of executive functioning, working memory, attention, and auditory processing skills. You can provide your clients with a cognitive remediation therapy program that can help them build cognitive skills and transfer them to daily life. Here is how.

Conclusion 

As Uzo Aduba says in Netflix’s Orange is the New Black: “adult friendships are so confusing”, but they do not have to be. Working on social skills with clients that have cognitive impairment can significantly help them in many ways. This includes helping your client rekindle old friendships, become a better listener, practice vulnerability, keep in touch with others, find special interest groups, and improve their overall cognitive functioning. Therapists can help their clients learn the necessary skills needed for developing and maintaining relationships to help their clients address their social needs

Dustin Luchmee
Dustin Luchmee

Dustin is HappyNeuron Pro's Product Specialist. With research experience in stroke, Dustin learned how a stroke can change someone's life. He also learned how different kinds of therapists can work together to help a person get better. He is passionate about neuro-rehabilitation and finding the active ingredients for effective therapy.

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