Dimitri Wittmann, pixabay

In this course section we would like to take a closer look at the psychological aspects of helping. You as a voluntary helper in the field of integration may think that helping is just a natural behaviour among human beings. But in order to support your work we want to explain what helping means and what motivates people to help others. We would like to look at the expectations helpers have when they decide to support others, which challenges they have to face and what are the limits they have to accept. The psychological concept of altruism is a relevant approach for the understanding and integration of helping processes. The risks of helping and their consequences can be understood through the consideration of the psychological concept of the helper syndrome.

Helping is a basic, natural human effort. When watching children you will realise that they do it almost automatically: When somebody is sad and crying they instinctively try to comfort and to ease the pain without lenghty consideration. These observations can lead to the assessment that helping behaviour is to a high extent innate and not learned in the course of  a person’s biography.

In the video below you can see how children and even chimps show prosocial behaviour:

You can activate subtitles by clicking on the cog symbol in the video player.

The most important basis for helping is altruism. In simple words, altruism can be described as caring about the welfare of other people and acting to help them. Unselfishness, selflessness and respect for the needs of others are relevant elements of the concept of altruism. The term was coined by the French philosopher Auguste Comte (1798-1757) who saw altruism as the antipole of human egoism.

Many recent surveys show that more and more people want to help and support others. They engage for socially disadvantaged persons, for disabled, for seniors, for children or for migrants and refugees. And it is obvious that not all of their motives are altruistic and self-forgetting. There seem to be aspects of helping that result in a higher extent of happiness, meaning and sense of achievement 1.

What is the psychological background for this? This question leads to helpers’ motivation and expectations.