It is difficult to watch a loved one suffer from mental health issues. And it can feel frustrating if you know that therapy could help.
But no matter how much someone is in need of counselling, we cannot make someone attend therapy. Therapy is also a personal journey that involves commitment. So unless someone wants to go to therapy, then therapy is unlikely to even help them.
The best you can do is suggest he or she consider seeing a therapist. But it is important to do this tactfully and with respect. If not, you might push the person further away from ever seeking help, or even leave them feeling suicidal.
Follow these tips when suggesting someone consider therapy.
1. Be very honest with yourself, first and foremost.
Telling someone they need therapy is no small thing. Are you sure that your friend, partner or family member is in need of counselling? Or are you actually just trying to avoid dealing with your relationship with them? Or trying to get them to behave in the way you want? Is there any chance it is you yourself who could benefit from therapy?
2. Do your research.
It’s not at all helpful to tell someone you think they have a mental health problem if you know nothing about mental health. Take some time to do research on depression, anxiety, or whatever disorder you worry they might have. It can also be very helpful to have a list of possible therapists ready, or information on where they could seek counselling they can afford.
3. Tell them in a kind, respectful, and supportive way.
Never tell someone they need therapy as an insult or a power play. Tell them in privacy, when both of you have time to spare, in a one-on-one conversation. And put it out as a suggestion, not as something they ‘must’ do. Make sure they know you are there for them, whatever they choose. Use blame free language, and listen to their side, even if they are defensive. Then keep the conversation between you and them.
4. Be aware of the language you are using.
Steer clear of words like ‘crazy’, ‘unhinged’, or ‘you’ve been scaring me’. When people are depressed or going through mental health challenges, the last thing they need to feel is sidelined or unacceptable. Even if their behaviour has been difficult, try to remember the person they really are and understand that it is their depression speaking, not who they are.
5. Be positive but realistic.
Don’t make out therapy to be some miracle it isn’t. But do point out the positives of seeking therapy, and its benefits.
6. Leave the decision up to them.
Again, you cannot make someone go to therapy. Nor would it be at all helpful to force someone to see a therapist. What your friend or loved one needs most is support, not to be bullied. Try to accept their decision, and let them know that if they ever want to discuss it further, you are available.
7. If it is a serious situation, call the proper authorities.
The above tips refer to family and friends who are struggling in their day to day lives. If the situation is actually dangerous, and you worry the person is going to hurt themselvecs or others or commit a crime, then do call the proper authorities.
If you’d like more tips on how to tell a friend or loved one they are in need of therapy, do read our longer article, “How to Tell a Friend or Loved One They Might Need Counselling”.