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Background. One avenue for addressing the social consequences of mental health problems is through befriending, a supportive relationship in which one-to-one companionship is provided on a regular basis. Although there is some evidence that befriending can improve psychological and social functioning, little is known about how it works.

Objective. This qualitative study aimed to understand the helping processes occurring in befriending relationships, from the perspectives of both befriendees and befrienders.

Method. Semi-structured interviews were conducted individually and jointly with eight befriendees and their corresponding befrienders. Thematic analysis was carried out on the data set of 23 interviews.

Results. The analysis generated nine themes concerning qualities of the relationship valued by befriendees and befrienders (e.g., empathy and mutuality), processes of making meaning (e.g., considering alternative perspectives), and how change was effected in befriendees' lives (e.g., learning how to have healthier relationships with others). The accounts emphasized the importance of the quality of the relationship itself, and highlighted aspects of the relationship that were sometimes difficult to negotiate.

Conclusions. The findings suggest that befriending shares commonalities with other types of psychological help. However, it is also characterized by some particular challenges, such as establishing an empathic relationship and managing boundaries and endings.