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Running head: BEST PRACTICES

Best Practices for Helpers

Mary Denmon & Bridget M. Macaluso
University at Buffalo


Best Practices for Helpers

Many people who are pursuing a career in student affairs say that their reasoning behind
this choice is that they want to help people. Coming into this semester, most of us thought that
helping others was something we were inherently good at. However, even people with
welcoming personalities or those who give great advice need to develop their skills as helpers.
There are many best practices that can be used in helping sessions, but there were a few that we
focused on during our final helping video together.
Listening and Attending
Being a good listener involves much more than just your ears. Hill reminds his readers
that attending is communicated mostly through nonverbal behaviors (Hill, 2004, p. 99).
Helpers need to use their facial expressions and body language to ensure their helpees that they
are invested in the conversation (Hill, 2004). During our session, Bridget used welcoming facial
expressions to encourage Mary that she was empathizing with her. She often nodded her head as
a cue to Mary that she was listening and understood.
Bridgets body language was also indicative of her attentiveness and interest in Marys
story. Parsons teaches his readers the acronym SOLER as a way to remember that they should
have a posture that is straight and open, lean in to their helpee, use eye contact, and be relaxed
(Parsons, 2011). Bridget used all of these techniques while she sat and talked with Mary.
Open Ended Questions
Open ended questions are important because they help clients clarify and explore their
thoughts and feelings (Hill, 2004, p. 117). As helpers, we need to be sure that we are asking
open ended questions that encourage our helpees to think about their feelings rather than giving
one word answers. The questions that Bridget asked Mary were almost all open ended. At one


point Mary was talking about one of her techniques for dealing with her concerns about her mom
and Bridget said Do you feel like that helps you? This is a closed ended question because Mary
could have easily answered Yes or No. However, in this situation the question worked and
Mary had more to say about the topic.
Practice as Best Practice
While we were filming this helping session, we spent a lot of time discussing what some
of the best questions to ask the helpee would be. Whenever Bridget got stuck, she and Mary
would pause the video and work through the next steps of the exploration phase together. We
discussed what information we wanted from the helpee, how that would be beneficial in the
exploration process, and how to best ask for that information. We would stop and think about
closed ended questions and try to rephrase them to encourage more conversation.
This dialogue with a colleague can be very beneficial to helpees. Helping is, in many
ways, an art form. As such, every helper has different skills and techniques. Taking the time to
talk through some of these conversations with colleagues can provide insight about different
ways of thinking and will allow helpers to share skill sets with each other.
Throughout this semester we have had many chances to practice our helping skills with
each other. We have worked on our listening and attending skills, our body posture, and our open
ended questions. We have discussed three stages of helping- exploration, insight, and action- and
how each one differs (Hill, 2004). Now that we are aware of many of the best practices for
helpers, we need to continue our own practice with our colleagues so that we can continue to
develop our skills.



Hill, C. (2004). Helping Skills (2nd ed.) Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.
Parsons, R.D. (2011). Fundamentals of the helping process (2nd ed.. Long Grove, IL: Waveland