By Lauren Presutti
There is nothing worse than seeing a friend or loved one struggling with their mental health and not knowing how to help. It feels like your hands are tied. You want to just wave a magic wand and “fix” their struggles, but you can’t. Mental health is highly complicated and there are a myriad of underlying emotions, influences, past traumas, thoughts, and experiences that could be impacting someone’s mental health. Sorting these things out is like trying to unravel the world’s biggest knot. It’s tough. It’s so important to let your friend or loved one know that you care about them, you’re there for them, and they are not alone. Sometimes just being there for people, sitting beside them and simply listening is the best thing you can do for someone.
But if their symptoms aren’t going away and there is a continuous struggle that leaves you wondering what more you can do, consider talking to your friend or loved one about starting therapy. The idea of suggesting therapy to someone often makes people cringe, because they don’t know what to say or not say, and they feel afraid of how to bring up the subject without offending someone. At River Oaks Psychology, we want to provide you with some tips for how to gently bring up the subject of therapy with someone you know who is struggling with their mental health.
First, talk to your friend or loved one in a private environment during a time that you and the person are getting along well. Be sure to emphasize that you’re bringing up the subject because you care about them. Remain calm and collected. There is no reason for you to become agitated or anxious about the subject. You want to convey the idea that therapy is normal, healthy, and very common. We suggest reminding your friend or loved one that therapy is something many people engage in and benefit from. Speak in a very casual tone, just as you would for any other subject relating to someone’s wellness. It’s critical to avoid stereotypes, avoid using derogatory language, and avoid suggesting that the person “needs therapy” in a way that makes them feel ashamed. Instead, remind the person that going to therapy is one of the strongest things they can do for themselves. Choosing to seek treatment for mental health is an extraordinary act of personal courage.
Emphasize that mental health is just as important as physical health. Try comparing therapy to seeing a doctor for any other medical condition. Treating your mental health is just as valid as treating any other part of your body. Remind the person that mental health conditions like anxiety and depression are treatable and can be managed. Tell the person that it is possible for them to feel better with treatment. It’s important to convey ideas of hope and recovery through this conversation. Be prepared to listen and validate their feelings, whatever they may be.
Not sure how to start the conversation? The following examples might be helpful for you:
“Hi, I don’t want you to take this the wrong way and I’m only mentioning it because I really care about you so much. Would you be interested in talking with a therapist? I know that you’re struggling and it hurts me to know that you’re hurting. Online therapy is easy and private. It might be helpful.”
“Hey, maybe you have already considered this, but I was just wondering if you think talking to a therapist might be helpful? It sucks to see that you’re struggling and you deserve to be happier. So many people go to therapy nowadays, it’s no big deal. Maybe you would like talking to someone safe and confidential?”
“Hi, I’ve noticed that you haven’t been yourself lately and I’m wondering if you are struggling with things that a therapist could help with? I hate to see you feeling so down and I want to help you get connected to anything that would be helpful.”
“I know that things have been really hard for you lately and I think that a therapist may be able to help you gain some strategies for coping with this.”
(If you’ve benefited from therapy) – “I’m not trying to compare my experience to yours or anything like that, but therapy was really helpful for me and it might be helpful for you, too. I was nervous in the beginning but it became so much easier once I got started. I know that you’re struggling and I was wondering if maybe therapy would help.”
It’s also important to remember this is not your decision. It is their decision. You are simply bringing up an idea that may be helpful for them, but if your friend or loved one is not ready for therapy, you cannot force them to be ready. Therapy can only be successful and productive if the person attending therapy has initiated treatment on their own accord. People who are forced to be in therapy typically do not engage in the process and it is very difficult to make progress during the session when someone resents being in therapy. If it feels like you are pushing them too much, please take a step back because coercing someone into therapy is not going to help (it may actually make them feel worse).
However, if the person is open to discussing it, this is a great opportunity to talk about their preferences and options. Would they be interested in online therapy? Or do they need a face-to-face treatment option? What kind of health insurance do they have? Do they prefer a male or female therapist? Are they looking for a specialist for any particular problem? Now would be the best time to brainstorm some of these answers because they would have your support right there with them. (If they are interested in online therapy, please text or call us at 248-717-1232 and we would be happy to talk with you about our options).
The biggest takeaway message from the conversation should be that therapy is accessible for them if they so choose. It’s normal to have some fears and nervousness about starting therapy, but if the person is brave enough to get started, they will likely find relief in the process and therapy will feel much more comfortable after they meet their therapist. We want people to know that however they show up in session – however they feel, however they act, however they choose to express themselves – we’re paying attention and we care about you. We are accepting you. We’re honoring your experience. We’re listening. We want people to forget about the outside world and just talk to us, person to person.