I met a man who talked about his heart-wrenching experiences with a mentally ill family member. All I did was sit with him, listen, and say things like, "that is a terrible thing to have to deal with" (and it's a good thing I didn't need to do more, since it was towards the end of a party, and I was smashed.) Another friend had a similar experience with this guy, and as she said, "Clearly, he needed to talk about it." Did I help him? I don't know, but I don't think I hurt him.
I also talked with a friend who has had difficulty finding a good therapist, since he's very self-aware and doesn't need insights he's already gained parroted back at him. I can sympathize, since I've often had that experience myself.
But I have had good (informal) therapy sessions that I think managed to combine these. So I'm thinking about what made those sessions effective. In all of them, the therapist's presence is really the big thing. The people who have helped me have this very solid sense of wisdom about them, and it's pleasant just to sit with them, because it really does feel like they can hold and comprehend all this pain that I've been burdening myself with.
One of those times, I think my friend was telling me things I already knew, (You make everyone's problems your own) but the fact it was _him_ telling me was relieving. Someone I trusted and respected and carried a lot of authority both in his demeanor and experience. (I think he might have actually said, "_WE_ make everyone's problems our own.") There is validation of a path I've been walking, until then, alone.
Maybe it's a matter of being able to stop my brain dead in its tracks and force me to sit with my own pain, rather than thinking about it in an abstract manner. I mean, I do think that peering at my issues from every angle possible is useful, but in the end, I just need to stop and metaphorically hold in my hands the leaden, velvet-lined casket that is a statement like, "I make everyone's problems my own."