How to Help Someone Who Suffers From Delusions

A person with delusions doesn't need help to change, but to be able to be the way they are without suffering. There are different ways to gradually achieve this. The most important thing is that they're surrounded by understanding and loving people.
How to Help Someone Who Suffers From Delusions

Last update: 20 June, 2022

A person who suffers from delusions doesn’t always find enough support. In fact, in many cases, the attention they receive is reduced to diagnosis and the prescribing of medication.

However, those affected by this condition may undergo a great deal of suffering. They experience ideas, perceptions, or experiences that are extremely difficult for others to understand. Furthermore, they usually face unwanted feelings of loneliness with few tools to prevent it from causing them real suffering.

Currently, there are several alternative approaches to help sufferers of delusions. Although they don’t replace psychiatric care, they can be an excellent complement to other treatments. In fact, they’re essential components that health systems don’t always offer.

Those who interact on a daily basis with a person who suffers from delusions often don’t know what to do. They might try to ‘make them see reason’ because the idea prevails that ‘reason’ means adhering to common beliefs. Alternatively, they might ignore them.

However, there are other ways to handle these types of situations. We’re going to talk about them in this article.

The pioneering idea it presents is that, even if others consider someone to have delusions, the problem is not their unusual beliefs, but the way they’re treated ”.

-Tamasin Knight-

man with schizophrenia

Unusual beliefs

We could say that, in society, there are some idiosyncrasies that are ‘allowed’ and others that are condemned. When a misconception or even a delusion, is shared by many, it’s considered ‘normal’. On the other hand, an unusual belief or idea tends to be labeled as ‘abnormal’. If, in addition, there’s a diagnosis involved, the disorder is usually held responsible.

Nevertheless, not all mental health professionals see things this way. Among many others, researchers, Marius Romme and Sandra Escher have discovered that hearing voices and having unusual beliefs are more common than previously thought. They claim that, for some people, it’s a normal experience and they don’t have to become like everyone else to ‘be okay’.

From this point of view, the objective isn’t to make an individual stop having these kinds of experiences and beliefs, but rather that they don’t prevent them from continuing with their life. Nor should they imply high emotional suffering. There’s a great deal of literature available on this subject, but for now let’s move on to the main point of this article: how to help a person who suffers from delusions.

Helping someone who suffers from delusions

The central premise of helping a person who suffers from delusions means accepting them as they are. They have ideas, beliefs, and personal experiences that are unique, but this is part of their identity. The task of the environment isn’t to stop them from being as they are, thinking as they think, or living the way they live. Their ways must be respected. They have their own realities, in which others shouldn’t intervene.

The desire, or even the demand, by others for a person who suffers from delusions to change is only a source of distress for them. Indeed, far from helping, it increases their feelings of isolation, sadness, and being misunderstood.

The most important thing is to listen to them, respectfully. A person who suffers from delusions should be able to talk about their experiences, without being blamed for them. If you want to help them, the best thing to do is to listen to them with respect and without judging them.

Man talking to a therapist about suffering from delusions.

Coping strategies

If your goal is to help a person suffering from delusions, respectful listening is the central strategy. In addition, there are other strategies you can employ to increase their feelings of well-being. Here are some examples:

  • Protection Strategies. You must help them to identify what actions or situations will allow them to feel safer and more protected. For example, leaving the light on at night, wearing a hat, etc.
  • Change their environment. When a person is greatly distressed by a delusion, a change of environment may be helpful. A trip or even a short walk can be helpful in these cases.
  • Prepare for difficult situations. Help them devise a coping plan for demanding situations. They must first identify what situations they see as threatening, then develop a defined plan so that they can face them.
  • Self-affirmation. A person who suffers from delusions needs to trust both themselves and what’s to come. Saying affirmative phrases like “I’m going to get through this” or “This situation won’t last forever” can help them.

A person who suffers from delusions needs to stay away from stress, reinforce their self-esteem, and feel accepted and loved. These are universal needs, but delusion-sufferers usually struggle with them, due to their disorder.

Structured routines help them settle down better, as does training in social skills and problem-solving strategies. In fact, this increases the sense of control they have over their environment.

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  • Fernández Escobar, W. (2003). Delirio. Rev. Fac. Med.(Bogotá), 109-113.
  • Rojas, V. C., & Rodríguez, A. M. B. (2020). Aplicación de la terapia de aceptación y compromiso en un caso de ideación delirante. Revista de Casos Clínicos en Salud Mental, 8(1), 1.