V-A-R: Validate, Appreciate, Refer

Active Minds’ everyday guide for everyday challenges

What is Basic V-A-R?

Basic V-A-R is Active Minds’ everyday guide for everyday challenges. It’s about showing up for one another in our everyday struggles.

The letters V-A-R correspond to three steps: Validate-Appreciate-Refer. The steps are easy-to-understand, easy-to-do, and easy-to-remember. They provide a guide to listening and responding in a helpful way.

V-A-R conversations can take many forms — phone, in-person, text message, Facetime. The medium doesn’t matter as much as the message that you care.

Why V-A-R is important

A conversation can be life changing. For many people, feeling supported is just what they need.

And in this time of change and uncertainty, showing up for a friend is more important than ever.

It can be challenging, though, to know exactly what to say when someone tells you they are stressed, having a difficult day, or are in pain or have a mental health need.

Active Minds suggests an approach that includes 3 V-A-R Steps so you’ll know what to say and do in those moments. A conversation that includes the elements of Validate-Appreciate-Refer is one that allows you to actively listen to someone you care about and help them cope. A conversation with you could make all the difference and prevent a crisis from developing later.

With V-A-R, Active Minds lets everyone know that someone doesn’t need to be in a crisis to seek help; you don’t have to be an expert to provide help; and help can come in many different forms. Being there for someone in a moment of need is what it’s all about.

During COVID-19 related physical distancing, remember that remote work and study can be difficult, and can be isolating for extended periods of time. For additional tips and resources to not only take care of yourself, but to take care of others in your community as well, visit our remote community resource hub.

It can be really challenging to know what to say or how to respond to someone when they confide in you. Having a roadmap like V-A-R makes it easier to focus on helping the other person rather than worrying about saying the ‘right’ thing.

Remi Larson

V-A-R in brief

Below is a brief overview of V-A-R. Use this as a guide to listen in a way that let’s the person know they’re being heard and they’re not alone. (You don’t have to do the steps in order).

To learn more, see the 3 V-A-R Steps page. You can also keep these steps handy by downloading the V-A-R Wallet Card.

1. Validate their feelings

Let them know what they’re feeling is okay and that you believe them. Validation sounds like…

  • “That makes sense.”
  • “That sounds difficult.”
  • “I’m sorry you are struggling right now.”

2. Appreciate their courage

Speaking up can be a challenging step — let them know it’s a good one. Also show you’re there to support them. Affirmation sounds like…

  • “Thank you for sharing.”
  • “You are not alone.”
  • “I’m here for you.”

3. Refer them to skills and support

Let them know help is available and refer them to appropriate resources. Refer sounds like…

  • “Could we schedule a video chat-and-walk so we can see each other while we get fresh air?”
  • “I’ve been using this meditation app while stuck at home. Does that sound like something that might be helpful for you right now?”
  • “I think it might be helpful to talk to someone. I can stay on the phone with you while you text the Crisis Text Line.”

Just three simple steps. But it means so much.

An example of V-A-R in action

In this example, Mary recognizes that there might be more to her friend’s story:

My friend was having trouble finding any positive thoughts on her daily walk, and was starting to have trouble sleeping and concentrating. She video chatted me to share about her frustrations. 

She said things like: ‘I know we’re all going through this – we’re all stressed,’ and ‘I know I’m not the only one isolated.’ She didn’t think it was worth mentioning her struggles because everyone was dealing with the same thing.

Mary’s subsequent response to her friend shows V-A-R in action.

She first validated her feelings: “It makes sense that you’re struggling right now. Your feelings are valid, and I’m glad you’re paying attention to how they are changing.”

She then appreciated her courage: “I am grateful you shared this with me — I know it isn’t always easy.”

Finally, she referred her to appropriate skills and support: “It sounds like it might be helpful to talk to someone about how you’re feeling and what’s keeping your mind racing.” and “Can you bring me along on your next walk on video chat? I’d love to just be there with you, even if it’s not side-by-side.”

When to use V-A-R

Here are some things you might hear a friend, family member, or colleague say that suggests they may need support. Consider these to be an opening to having a fuller conversation. Respond with the V-A-R steps in mind — Validate-Appreciate-Refer.

  • “I’m just having a hard time lately.”
  • “It’s hard to get going with my day sometimes.”
  • “I’m really stressed out.”
  • “It’s just so hard to cope with everything.”
  • “I’ve been feeling really anxious lately.”
  • “I’m so exhausted.”
  • “I have too much going on.”
  • “I’m feeling really overwhelmed.”

If you hear a friend mention the word suicide or suggest they are considering hurting themselves (for example, suggesting they want to end it all), it’s critical to help them seek professional help. See our Signs and Symptoms page for more information.

V-A-R is for non-crisis situations

Basic V-A-R is a guide to how to respond to everyday troubles in a helpful way. For many situations, you don’t have to be an expert to help – you just have to be there. Have a conversation to let someone know, I’m here for you, and then refer them to additional sources of support.

For crisis situations, see the Crisis Information: Get Help Now page.

If you are worried that someone may be considering suicide, find support immediately by texting “BRAVE” to 741-741. Stay with them until they are safe.