3 V-A-R Steps

Validate, Appreciate, Refer®

Having a conversation that includes three elements — Validate, Appreciate, Refer® — is a way to listen to someone you care about and help them cope. It’s an approach that could make all the difference to that person and help prevent a crisis.

Below is a guide to the 3 V-A-R steps. For additional information, see our main V-A-R® page. You can also download a V-A-R® Wallet Card to keep these steps handy.


1. Validate their feelings

Let them know what they’re feeling is okay and that you believe them.

When someone reaches out to you, validate their feelings and acknowledge that whatever they are going through is okay. Even if you cannot relate with what they are going through, it’s real to them.

Let them know what they’re feeling makes sense and you hear them and are listening. Do so by paraphrasing/echoing/mirroring their sentiments. Repeat back to them their own words regarding how they’re feeling or what they’re going through. Rephrasing is also a way to make sure you’re understanding correctly (“I hear that you’re feeling X, is that right?”).

Validation sounds like…

  • “That makes sense.”
  • “That sounds difficult.”
  • “I’m sorry you are struggling right now.”
  • “I believe you.”
  • “I hear you.”
  • “It seems like you’re having a particularly hard moment.”
  • “It makes a lot of sense that you are stressed.”
  • “You have a lot on your plate.”
  • “Sounds like you’re having a really tough time right now.”
  • “I’m so sorry to hear you’re struggling right now.”
  • “That must be really difficult to cope with.”


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.

It’s not always easy for a person to admit that they’re struggling. Let them know that you’re glad they opened up to you and acknowledge that taking such a step may not have been easy. Let them know they’re doing the right thing by putting words to their feelings.

It can be very helpful to hear your encouragement. Show that you’re there to support them. Use this opportunity to let them know you care and that they’re not alone.

Appreciate sounds like…

  • “Thank you for sharing.”
  • “Thank you so much for talking to me. That took a lot of courage.”
  • “It took courage to share with me. I love you and I’m here for you. Thank you for being open with me.”
  • “I’m here for you if you want to talk or need anything.”
  • “You are not alone.”
  • “I will support you through this tough time.”


3. Refer them to skills and support

Let them know help is available and refer them to appropriate resources. The goal with this step is to support them in identifying what will be helpful to them.

Sometimes what a person needs is a listening ear, a study buddy, encouragement, or time together. Active Minds chapters are a great way for students to come together and know they’re not alone.

Other times, extra skills and resources is what will help. These can include self-care skills or coping strategies.

If their need for support is greater, suggest your campus counseling center or other mental health professional. The Referral Resources page lists many options. Offer to stay with them while they call or go with them to their appointment — this reinforces the fact you’re there to support them and they’re not alone.

If your friend is in crisis, see the Crisis Information: Get Help Now page for hotlines and other sources of immediate help.

Remember that this conversation may be ongoing. Following up with the person the next day, or soon, is always a good idea. You’ll notice that all of the “refer” suggestions are in the form of a question. It’s important to use this step to learn from them what is most helpful.

Refer sounds like…

  • “What do you do for self-care?”
  • “How does some fresh air sound?”
  • “How does your balance between home and work feel right now?”
  • “I’ve been  listening to a comedy podcast and it helps me feel better, does that sound good to you?”
  • “I’ve been using this meditation app. It’s really helped me slow down my thoughts. Does that seem appealing to you?”
  • “Do you  think it might be helpful to talk to someone? I can stay with you while we call/text a hotline.”
  • “Do you want to make plans to go on a run together tomorrow?”
  • “Do you want to  spend the weekend baking and watching movies together?”
  • “I know Active Minds is working to change the conversation about mental health and is a supportive environment, would you want to go to a meeting and meet people?”

Note: V-A-R® can be customized for use as a training resource for different populations. Contact us to learn more about these opportunities.

How V-A-R® came to be

Students who are part of an Active Minds chapter often get approached by people with a story to tell. During a campus outreach event, for example, a passerby might relate their own struggles or that of a friend or family member who has depression, anxiety, or other mental health issue. Mental health concerns are so common!

Chapter members, like most of us, aren’t therapists, though. So how should you respond when you’re not quite sure how?

Juliette Virzi and Remi Larson, two outstanding leaders from the Active Minds chapter at UCLA, tapped into their own experiences as Active Minds members and mental health advocates to address this question.

They realized that mental health trainings tend to focus on crisis intervention and suicide prevention. What their chapter members needed was a guide to how to respond to every day troubles in a helpful way.

Remi’s and Juliette’s insight led to the creation of V-A-R, an easy-to-remember guide for themselves and their fellow students on how to listen and then refer a person to additional help. The two refined the concept to see what works best. The V-A-R approach was then presented at the Active Minds National Conference in 2017 for feedback from other students nationwide.

The consensus was that Validate, Appreciate, Refer is a much needed guide for anyone who wants to know how to respond to someone who’s having a hard time in a way that let’s them know they’re being heard and they’re not alone.

Juliette and Remi have since graduated and are pursuing careers in the mental health field. Our sincere thanks to them both for their amazing work and for sharing V-A-R with Active Minds and the world.

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.