How to Help a Loved One Who Might Need Therapy

Suggesting that someone may be struggling and needs professional help can be tricky business. Using the wrong wording, or tone means the conversation can potentially turn ugly. Mental health is just as important as physical health, however it is frequently less prioritized and often overlooked. Although it may be difficult, this can be an important and often life-changing conversation to have. Here’s some things to remember before diving in.

1. Don’t attack. The easiest way to communicate that you care about someone, without immediately causing them to feel the need to defend themselves, is avoid “you” statements. Stick to “I” statements, and reflect back how you feel and what you have been observing - for example, “I feel worried and scared when I see behavior that seems isolative and secretive”. Remember to label facts as facts, feelings as feelings, and opinions as opinions.
2. Choose a good time and place. It wouldn’t be the best idea to start this conversation while out in a crowded bar, or at a family function, or Monday morning before a busy workweek.  Plan ahead for this conversation - try to pick a time and place where you both are relaxed and as stress-free as possible. Although it may be tempting to bring other friends or family members as reinforcements, this may cause your loved one to feel “ganged up on”, and they may become angry or defensive due to that.
3. Be a role model. If your loved one is highly resistant to seeking help, do some research for them on the process. Maybe even consider seeing a therapist yourself. Once he or she realizes that it isn’t something to be ashamed of, they may come around and be more open to the idea. Many people cite financial difficulties as a roadblock to seeking help - MyTherapist offers a sliding scale fee structure for this reason!
4. Try to stay future oriented. Rather than rehashing the past, it may be helpful to focus on what will change and how life will be better - for both of you - once these issues are dealt with. Doing some research on the benefits of therapy can be helpful in this situation. Explain what the process is like, and what will change, and it may be easier to get your loved one on board.

Dana is a therapist in New York providing relationship counseling and sex therapy for individuals and couples. Are you ready for insight and change?