Psychotherapy and Training Collective of New York

How Not to Say the Wrong Thing

Submitted by Gerald G. Gersh, LCSW, BCD

Often we can be at loss as to what to say to a friend or acquaintance dealing with cancer or some other serious illness. As a result, we could say nothing, or worse say something that pops out of our mouths that could be hurtful. This article highlights how friends and relatives can sometimes inadvertently say the wrong thing to the patient or the patient's close relatives.

The authors, Susan Silk and Barry Goldman, use a drawing of concentric circles, much like a dart board, to illustrate this situation.

If the patient is the bullseye, then any ring outside of the bullseye should only make supportive comments to the patient. Close family members would be in the second ring, close friends the third, and so on. The point is, if someone wants to express what could be a potentially hurtful comment such as those described in the article, that friend should only say it to people further out in the ring rather than anyone in the inner rings. It's a useful diagram and the article gives more detailed examples of what "not to say" in these types of highly sensitive situations.