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Haley Jakobson

How To Talk To Someone About Therapy

We know therapy helps people. But how do we help someone start therapy?
How To Talk To Someone About Therapy

We know therapy helps people. But how do we help someone start therapy? Encouraging someone to seek support can often feel like a confrontation, instead of open communication. And because there is still so much stigma around therapy, bringing up the topic to someone who is already going through it can be tough. We want to communicate in a non-judgmental and gentle way, and avoid saying anything critical or shaming. Easier said than done, right? We thought it would be helpful to write y’all some scripts that you can practice and personalize before reaching out to someone about exploring therapy. We reached out to our MyWellbeing therapists and asked their advice on how to encourage people to give therapy a try.

Creative ways to explain therapy:

Therapy is a like a laboratory where you get to run experiments. It’s a safe and confidential laboratory that holds all types of sensitive information. In this laboratory, you get to explore things you are curious about. It’s a place where you can take healthy risks with new thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Over time you start to apply what you learned in the laboratory in the real world. And when you run into obstacles, you can always come back into the laboratory to study them, and develop new ways of approaching the issue. The great thing about therapy is that we get to explore our reactions to others in a different way. With family, friends, and neighbors you may react to certain situations without the opportunity to process what happened in an emotionally safe way. In therapy, our relationship has different boundaries than those you would have with the outside world. Those boundaries create unique experiences and opportunities to learn about ourselves. - Brett Dupuy

For some people it can be helpful to put it in perspective by comparing it to a problem with their physical health. To say to someone: if you seriously injured your knee would you go to a doctor to get it checked out and then follow a prescribed plan for how to rehabilitate it and make it better? For many people the answer is yes. I would then gently challenge the person on why managing a problem with their mental health should be different. Going to therapy would be like going to the doctor, and instead of taking an MRI to get a clear picture of the issue, you work with your therapist to get a better understanding of the challenges you're facing, to clearly figure out what it is that's going on and then make a plan to treat it. Then, the real progress will come as a result of the person taking the insights/skills/strategies being learned in therapy and practicing applying them in their everyday lives, just as the real progress in recovery from a physical injury comes from performing the rehab exercises day after day. - Jeremy Antar

What even is therapy and why do I need it?

Ariella Soffer worked at a university where these kinds of questions came up a lot. This was how she approached them:

“The main pieces of advice I always offer to those concerned about a friend, child, student etc. who would call me to consult about a loved one is to listen empathically to their loved one and encourage them to seek professional help with specific, concrete steps that can demystify the process. This advice can be simple and helpful for people when the are anxious about making the recommendation. Here are the three questions that we helped people prepare the most:

“What is therapy?

“Therapy is the process of talking to a mental health professional about your problems or concerns. This mental health professional will listen with an objective ear and help you learn more about yourself and ways to look at situations. This can help you feel more equipped to navigate the problems you are facing outside of your therapy sessions and can also help you understand some of your thoughts, feelings and behaviors in a deeper way.

“How do I know if I should seek therapy?

“Many people decide to seek therapy for many different reasons. (*note, if you are in therapy, it can be helpful to disclose this to your friend and share why you chose to take this step). Seeking therapy doesn’t mean you aren’t “normal,” it is not a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of strength that you are taking your wellbeing into your own hands. There are no rules for when you “should” seek therapy, but asking yourself whether there is something bothering you or there is something that feels “off”, is a good place to start. If there is something that is preoccupying you, or causing worry or concern, that is an important enough reason to talk to a therapist.

“How do I know if therapy will help me?

“You may not feel like it has helped immediately, and this is useful to know going into your first session. Talk openly about your concerns with your therapist and discuss what you hope to get out of the sessions. Every therapist works differently, and it is always helpful to make sure to communicate your expectations and hopes from the process. The important piece to keep in mind is that the first step is always the hardest - reaching out for help and finding the right fit - but once you do - most of the time, talking to a trained professional about your concerns will help share the burdens you are facing and work towards healthier ways of navigating your stressors.” - Ariella Soffer

Some scripts to personalize:

”Hey ‘insert loved one here.’ I’ve noticed recently that you seem sad/down/hurting/etc. I really care about you, so I’d like to share my story if you’re open to it? (Assuming they say “yes”) - share about your experience of how therapy has helped you, any fears you might have had about making the first appointment, going to your first session, etc. You can then ask about their thoughts and experiences about therapy. Lastly you can offer to help, when they are ready! Honoring the timing of seeking help removes the feeling of pressure and expectation. This initial conversation may not lead to immediate action, but can rather serve to build safety and comfort for your friend to take the next steps!” - Vanessa Kensing

"Hey…I've been noticing you haven't been okay recently (give an ex: like you seem sad all the time, you aren't coming out or over as much as you used, you are getting over-worked /angry/anxious a lot). I'm wondering if you have thought about going to therapy and getting some extra support right now? (Pause and listen to what the person has to say). I've been to therapy (or I'm in therapy now, or my brother sees a therapist) and I think it can really help. I would love to support you in any way I can to get the help you need. Shall we try to call someone together right now?" - Alison Pepper

Alison added: if someone is in imminent risk of suicide or exhibiting erratic behavior that could cause harm it's important to tell someone over and over again "I love you, I'm worried about, and we need to go to the hospital now". Other language like "I'm here for you, you don't have to go through this alone" can be very supportive. If someone will not go safely with you to the hospital call a suicide lifeline or 911.

MWB specialist Jill Cohen is a grief counselor and works with people who have experienced the death of a loved one. She notes that very often these are people whom have not previously had the need or desire for therapy. So, seeking help may not even be on their "radar" as a "thing" to consider doing. Some thoughts on what to say:

“I know you're going through a really rough time, understandably, and grieving is sad and can be lonely. You might think you are losing your mind sometimes, when you realize that your life that you had before your loss is not anything like your life now. I Think it might be helpful for you to have a safe place and a person with whom you can share some of your feelings, including anger, jealousy, guilt - that you might not want to tell others about. And a way to express your sadness with someone who can understand you and help you stay on track, and cope better. A professional can give you some tools to manage your life while grieving and to move forward to your "new normal." It's not a bad thing to seek help. In the long run, you'll probably be better off. It doesn't mean you are helpless, it just gives you a chance to get some extra support from someone who really cares and wants to help your grief."

another option:

“It's not embarrassing or shameful to want help with your grief. Nobody has ever taught you how to experience a loss like this before, and now you have to do it. But you don't have to do it alone. The feeling of grief can make you feel different from everyone else who doesn't "get it". That's why it's helpful to talk to someone who can "normalize" your grief and validate your experience. Everything changes after a death, relationships, family dynamics, routines, work, school, etc. and I think it would really be helpful for you to have some support going through this.” - Jill Cohen

Important to note: Jill offers two "freebies" which can help someone decide if grief counseling might be a good opportunity for them.

“I care about you so much. It seems that you’ve been having a hard time with (whatever they’ve been experiencing-overwhelmed feelings, dating, troubles at work, etc). I’m here to support you, and I believe having an objective third point of view, like a therapist, may help you gain clarity that I may not be able to give. (If you’ve had a positive experience with therapy, you can say how that helped you with a hardship). I want you to know you have support and it’s ok to seek help. Here are some great referral websites I’ve used (MyWellbeing for example!)” - Shelby Remillard

“I’ve noticed lately that you seem to be having a hard time with (school, work, social interactions, feeling overwhelmed, etc.). I want you to know that I am here for you and thought that it could be helpful for us to talk about you going to therapy. I know it can be challenging to take that first step but I think it could be helpful with (insert something specific the individual may be struggling with). I would be happy to help you find someone to meet with. How would you feel about that?” - Pamela Skop

What if the person isn’t receptive to talking about therapy?

Sometimes a loved one has a serious mental illness that comes with an impaired orientation to reality. It’s a noble, humanistic impulse to try to reason with the part of the person that is whole and intact, but in some extreme cases they may simply be unable to hear you. Even if you do say all the right things, the person may remain unreachable. My advice is to be compassionate, maintain healthy boundaries, and try not to become attached to a desired outcome. - Dean Olsher

We hope this information and scripts were helpful for y’all! The most important takeaways I got from reading our therapists insights were how essential expressing deep care and compassion for the person who is having a hard time is, as well as offering personal narratives around our own struggles. A big part of what we do at MyWellbeing is humanize the process of finding a therapist, by focusing on your individual needs first, and logistics second. Our matchmaking process is meant to alleviate a lot of the stress of the search, because we know how overwhelming it is to get help when you feel helpless. If you’re in NYC and interested in giving therapy a try, check out our questionnaire. Big thanks to our contributing therapists for their thoughtful words of wisdom and helpful ideas!

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About the author

Haley Jakobson is a writer of plays, poetry, and creative non-fiction. In her writing Haley explores mental health and wellness, sex and trauma, queerness, and bodies. When she isn’t scribbling on the subway, she is hanging out with the MWB team as their Digital Content Manager, and acting as the Artistic Director and co-founder of Brunch Theatre Company, an inclusive platform for emerging theatre artists to join the conversation. A poet in the millennial era, Haley reaches an audience of 11k+ readers on her instagram page. Haley lives in Brooklyn and is a gemini.

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