Mentoring is a way to draw on your life’s experience to help another person recreate their own life. Mentors play a role in survivors’ recovery by being sounding boards. They have an important place in a patchwork of support survivors need but have a hard time trusting enough to seek.
The skills and wisdom offered by mentors vary. That’s a good thing, because individuals who want to change have different needs.
One thing all great mentors share is the basic desire to be “this guide on the side, rather than the sage on the stage,” according to one mentor whom Gwen Moran interviewed for her Fast Company article The Best Mentors Ask These 8 Questions (March 16, 2018).
Moran lists eight questions for which she offers insights for mentors to consider. Survivors might reflect on them, too, with or without a mentor.
These questions may need to be adjusted for the survivor’s challenges. Here are a few additional insights into how mentors might adapt questions for someone early in recovery or in a phase of profound pain. These insights may also help survivors examine how their pursuit of goals may or may not support their own recovery process – and might benefit from a mentor.
What does success look like to you? Remember that “huge success” can sometimes be defined as getting through a day. Keep goals scaled to the focus of grief – very close – until the worse pain subsides. Telescoping from big plans to small-day achievements can actually be a useful skill over time.
What is the outcome you want? Understanding wants and needs – and the difference – can be part of establishing well-being. Knowing these things does not come easily, at first. So, don’t expect clarity on the answer. What works the best is letting the questions help sort through needs from wants, and learn what needs are.
What are you reading? Reading can be impaired during grief and tumult, and in some mental illnesses, but finding time to read the classics (if only in part or in summary) is a painless way to learn from someone else who paid the price for the lesson – from survivors who have traveled the path out of pain and dysfunction before you.
What are the obstacles you’re facing? Mentors are most successful when they focus with survivors on goals and obstacles outside those that are the focus in therapy, and in pastoral care. While personal resources are focused in therapy and healing for a period of time, it is sometimes fruitful to soft-walk through daily realities like work, school, hobbies, and friends. When therapy arrives at a safe plateau, it’s a good time to spend more time with these treasures in life. It can be a good time, also, to start with a mentor who can help imagine options for new job training or going back to school.
What does this kind of support system look like? Let’s say a survivor imagines a well life in the future living in a new city. Therapy progresses while including how the survivor grows toward the dream. Pastoral care can help bring a grace-filled reflective space to heal and grow spiritually while preparing for minimally disruptive change. A mentor helps devise real-world strategies and tasks to keep moving toward the dream at a pace that supports well-being. With loved ones, these helpers are part of a patchwork of support.
Other questions can be found in Moran’s article, but her main point is that mentors help individuals find answers within themselves and by their own creative wit. This is what we find, too, in counselors and pastoral ministers.
A last insight into mentors covers everyone else in your recovery life. It’s one thing if someone confronts you with truth you have been ignoring, if they intervene to help you see and choose better options. But, if someone starts imposing an answer, or presumes to have an answer for you, it’s time to look for new counsel. Remember: Mentors are the guide at the side, not the sage on the stage.