Research Definitions

Researchers studying why people help or don't help have provided the following definitions of helping behaviors and helping relations:

  • "Acts that have no obvious benefits for the person responding, though they benefit some other person and/or conform to a set of moral standards (Baron & Byrne, 1981:272 cited in Nadler et al, 1983:4)."
  • "Any behaviors (personal or formal-institutional) directed at a person in need to decrease the need for future help (Nadler, 1983:16)."


Webmaster Definitions

  • "Any actions directed at others (individually or collectively) or oneself that the recipient perceives as helpful or furthers or stimulates that recipient's efforts to survive and/or improve the quality of his or her life (i.e., without producing harm) and when possible, minimizes the need for similar actions in the future."

Less formally, I like to think of helping as:

  • Giving encouragement, a listening ear, a wanted present, a donation, time
  • The benefits derived from doctoring, nursing, tutoring, counseling, mentoring, parenting, volunteering, and rescuing
  • Receiving gifts graciously, criticism nondefensively, rejection diplomatically, and unwanted help warmly
  • Creating opportunities to learn, grow, work, and live interdependently
  • Stimulating to beneficial action, independence, and self-reliance by one's presence and one's relationship
  • Linking people with the resources--spiritual, physical, mental, social, financial, and vocational--that enable them to best help themselves
  • Loving yourself, listening to yourself, respecting yourself, and trusting yourself; then you can love, listen to, respect, and trust others.

Helping Defined

Dictionary Definitions

To the general public, whose common usage of terms are found in dictionaries, helping means assisting, facilitating, benefiting, profiting, bringing relief or succor, remedying a matter, correcting or removing an evil, serving or cooperating with others.

Professional Definitions

To professional helpers, helping takes on other meanings: an act, an attitude, and/or a relationship. 

Carkhuff and Anthony (1983) couch the term in the context of individual change and the role of the helper in that change.  

  • "The act of promoting constructive behavioral changes in an individual, which enhance the affective dimension of the individual's life and permit a greater degree of personal control over subsequent activities."

Mahoney (1967), looking at helping from a generic helpers' perspective writes about helping as:

  • "An attitude of wanting to use ourselves in a manner that will be most beneficial to the well-being of another...A belief that we can act altruistically and place interests of another before our own....A faith that we can help ourselves and others...necessary for human survival."

Professionals for whom helping is a secondary rather than a primary activity define helping as follows:

  • "A confidential and interactional relationship between a person with a problem and a skilled helper who facilitates problem resolution in a fashion consistent with the person's values (adapted by Cormier, Cormier, and Weisser, 1986:18 from A Comparison of Helping, Crisis Intervention, and Psychotherapy by Brammer & Shostrom, 1982:7)