Deciding to go to therapy for your own issues isn’t easy. Navigating how to convince someone else they need a therapist’s support? That presents a whole other challenge. As a spouse or friend, you have a responsibility to be supportive — and sometimes, that means telling someone that they need or would benefit from help the help of a professional. But that doesn’t make the “you need therapy” conversation easy. Convincing someone they need to see a therapist could trigger a spectrum of not-so-fun emotions, and the last thing you want is to offend or hurt someone you love.
While more and more people are addressing their mental health by attending therapy, there’s still a stigma — especially among men. Many push aside the thought of seeking a therapist for the mere fear of being judged or labeled. Blame longstanding notions of traditional manhood. “Men are significantly more likely to refrain from therapy due to stereotypical themes of masculinity,” says Washington-based therapist Leda Kaveh.
The irony of it all is that therapy is an excellent resource fo men who have been socialized not to talk about their feelings, work through issues, or examine moments where they feel angry or vulnerable. That notion aside, speaking to a professional therapist is helpful to everyone. And those who need help should seek it.
But making the leap can be hard for a lot of people. So how do you convince someone to see a therapist? While the conversation might be awkward, and you may not be able to convince your loved one to seek help, there are a few ways to make it easier on both of you. Here’s what you need to know, according to licensed psychotherapists.
How to Tell Someone They Need Therapy
- Be honest
The first thing to know: Being honest and loving means a lot more than saying the right thing. So if you don’t know how to approach the topic, just say so. Your honesty will set the stage for your loved one to share their feelings about their struggles and their thoughts about seeing a therapist. “You, too, are human, and showing authenticity is more tactful than presenting with a pre-determined speech or presentation,” Kaveh says.
- Ask for permission first
Telling someone they might need therapy can catch them off guard. That’s an easy way to incite defensiveness, so do your best to ease into the conversation. Choose a time (and place) where both of you can have a focused, honest conversation. And rather than diving right in, come at it from a place of respect. “A good rule of advice is to ask for permission before diving into a heavy conversation,” says New Jersey-based therapist Brooke Aymes.
- Use “I” statements
Once you’re sitting down with your partner or friend, gently (and lovingly) share your concerns. Share what you’ve noticed and ask if it’s okay to offer some potential solutions (including therapy). To keep your loved one engaged, Kaveh suggests that classic advice: Using “I” statements. For example, instead of saying “You’ve been very irritable lately,” try saying “I’m worried about your recent irritability.” Such statements are less confrontative and therefore easier to process.
- Stick to facts
As you open up about your concerns, it might be helpful to give concrete examples – especially if whomever you’re speaking to isn’t self-aware enough to see their own issues. Plus, Jose Ramirez, a licensed mental health counselor at The Psychology Group in Fort Lauderdale, says facts are usually more convincing than feelings. “If you have hard evidence as to why you believe someone should see a therapist, that’s more effective than just saying ‘I feel like you should go.’”Try saying something like, “I noticed you’ve been drinking a lot more than usual because you’re stressed at work, and I’m concerned about you. Have you considered talking to someone about what’s going on?”
- Show you care
Throughout the conversation, tense moments might pop up — and that’s okay. Even if your loved one becomes defensive or dismissive, stay focused on how much you care for them and love them. For example, you could remind them of some personal goals they may have –– whether succeeding at work or being a great parent –– and share how you want them to achieve those things. “Discuss how working with a professional will bring these goals to fruition, and that all you want is for them to succeed in the process,” says Donna Novak, PhD, a psychologist with Simi Psychological Group.
What If You’re Met With Immediate Reluctance?
If the person you’re speaking to is reluctant after the conversation, try to normalize the act of going to therapy. If you yourself have been, Ramirez says, sharing your own positive experiences with a therapist might encourage them. According to psychotherapist Arlene B. Englander, your loved one should see the positive outcomes of your own therapy in your daily life.
“A picture is worth 1000 words,” she says. “Seeing you living a better life as a result of your therapy will be the most powerful possible way to promote what therapy can do.”
If the person you’re concerned about is your partner, you could also begin by going to couples counseling together as a “bridge” to individual therapy. “By starting with couples counseling you can show your partner that therapy is a safe, open, judgement-free space,” says Sarah O’Leary, an associate marriage and family therapist at Estes Therapy.
It may also come down to giving them time. Therapy is scary and takes courage. If someone is reluctant after the conversation, be patient. “Let the loved one know that you are there for them and ready to help guide them should they decide to seek therapeutic services in the future,” says Kaveh.
What If the Person Just Won’t Listen?
Unfortunately, Aymes says, if they are reluctant following your heartfelt conversation, there is nothing you can do to convince them otherwise, and continuing to bring it up could harm the relationship.
“People know what they need and when we start to push our own agendas on them, this takes away their power,” says Erin Diericx, a Seattle-based marriage and family therapist.
“Collaborate with your loved ones, trust their strength and offer what you can while trusting the process of their consideration.”
It might be discouraging to watch your loved one struggle unnecessarily, but keep in mind therapy works better when the person is motivated to grow.
“Your friend or spouse will need to ultimately decide themselves that it sounds like a good plan and is worthwhile trying out,” Novak says. “They have to be open minded and willing themselves, without outside persuasion.”
One exception: If your loved one is in crisis, don’t hesitate to reach out to emergency services. Diericx recommends reaching out to the National Crisis Line at 866-427-4747 if you think someone’s life is in danger.
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