The heartbeat of our culture today seems to be fixed on solving problems and moving on to accomplish more. It is not the process, but the result that matters. Unfortunately, this sometimes becomes the mode of operation for relationships and even for ministry. It is tempting to offer solutions or advice, but it does not best serve the one who is hurting. The essential element to open the door to healing is validation. This simple, but critical element assures the helpee that you hear them and understand what they are telling you. It also builds a foundation of trust. People need to identify and state their pain to begin the process of restoration. Validating the helpee’s feelings shows that you want to truly walk alongside them to find healing and peace.
Do not skip this step and jump to advice (i.e., “I think you should just give it to God and move on. . .”). This indicates to the helpee that what you have to say is more important than their feelings. By validating their pain, the door is opened to the path that will lead to healing.
Examples of validation include statements like, “I can see that you feel hurt when you think about it” or “It sounds like you have been in a lot of pain over this” or “I can’t imagine what you have been through. I can see you are hurting.” You do not need to have all of the answers, but simply “be quick to listen and slow to speak” (James 1:19b).
I experienced a powerful example of the effects of validating a couple of years ago when I was helping an older lady. She had talked continually about her hurt and anger for over 45 minutes without seeming to take a breath. Her thirty years of hurt in her marriage had been bottled up, and it seemed as though she was releasing her anger on me. As I was listening I knew only God could intervene. No one could give her back the thirty years she felt she had lost. I realized it could be a very long afternoon so I finally interrupted her, which I rarely do. “I can see you have been through unbelievable pain and many years of hardship. Nothing can ever make up for that,” I said. Amazingly, her face softened, tears rolled down her cheeks and her countenance changed. Did that heal her? Is it that simple? A fool-proof formula? No, of course not, but it was a beginning. No one had ever acknowledged her pain. They had listened but not verbally acknowledged that they really heard her pain.
As a professor of counseling, I have found the most difficult thing for students to remember is to reflect the helpee’s pain by verbally validating before asking the next question. Even worse is skipping validation because the helper feels the need to give a quick fix. Validation is essential for healing.