August 2, 2021

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Caitlin Harper

How Can I Convince Someone Else To Go To Therapy?

When a loved one is suffering, our first instinct is often to do whatever we can to help. Sometimes, we might think that therapy could be a great way to support them, but it’s hard to figure out just how to broach the topic. So how can we convince someone else to go to therapy without damaging our relationship or feeling like we’ve overstepped a boundary?

When we see a significant other, roommate, friend, loved one, or family member suffering, our first instinct is often to do whatever we can to help. While we might think that therapy could be a great way to support them, it can be hard to figure out just how to broach the topic. Simply saying, “It seems like you might need therapy,” can sound confrontational rather than supportive, especially if it’s a conversation that has already happened in the past (and not ended well).

So how can we convince someone else to go to therapy without damaging our relationship or feeling like we’ve overstepped a boundary?

For better or worse, you can’t convince someone else to go to therapy

But! There are ways to encourage or persuade someone to try therapy.

The important thing to remember is that when we’re thinking about how to do this, most of the work isn’t actually centered on how we can convince them, but around setting our own expectations, creating boundaries around what we can and can’t control, and modeling for others what we believe to be in the best interest for our own health.

When they start to observe some of the benefits of your modeling behaviors, you may end up persuading them more effectively than if you simply sat them down and said, “I think you need to go to therapy.”

When you’re trying to convince someone else to go to therapy, first consider your own boundaries

Often, when we decide that we want to convince someone to go to therapy, that feeling starts with seeing someone we care about who is suffering, someone we want to help. But as beautiful and rewarding as therapy can be, it takes work. It’s really difficult to convince someone to go and actually benefit from the work if they’re not reaching that conclusion and deciding on their own to show up and do that work on their own terms.

When you see someone suffering, sit down and strategize with yourself first. Think about how much:

  • is in your control when it comes to being able to support them
  • is out of your control
  • you can assert yourself
  • you can dedicate to the process of offering them support without burning yourself out if they say no or that they’re not ready

Then, you could take a small step to kick off the conversation. You could:

  • send them a small gift
  • send a loving email or text message
  • leave supportive post-it notes around their living space if you live together

After you set your own boundaries, tap into your own sense of curiosity

Learning more about what’s going on with the other person can be a good next step to lightly nudge them and encourage them to consider therapy or consider it more seriously if they’ve said no in the past.

Tap into your curiosity by saying, “Hey, how are you feeling really? What’s really going on? Can you help let me in or let me know what’s going on? I want to be here for you and I want to support you” or “I care about you and I’m a little bit worried about what I’m seeing. Can we talk about it? Or would you like to share with me?”

If they say no or that they’re not ready, respect the fact that it’s probably a vulnerable topic for them

If they do let you in, and they share how they’re feeling, ask them what is working for them or has worked for them in the past to help them feel more grounded or more safe.

If they’re not sure, or the things they’re using or have used in the past are no longer working, you could say, “Hey, have you considered therapy?”

Or “Lately, I’ve noticed that you’ve been struggling with _______. I want you to know that I am here for you and that therapy might help you cope with everything that’s been going on. It can be hard to get started, but I’d be happy to support you if you wanted to find a therapist to help. What do you think?”

Sometimes, if someone is going through something for the very first time, like grief, they might be feeling the need or desire to seek therapy for the first time in their lives and have no idea that it’s even an option. Try saying something like this:

“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.”

Whether they say no, yes, or they’ve tried but it hasn’t worked out, thank them for sharing. Ask them if they would consider it again and let them know how much it would mean to you if they gave it a shot or another chance.

You can even take it one step further and set some of your time aside and let them know that you’re available to help with the search process. Helping them identify some clinicians that might be a good fit for them can help reduce some of the friction of the therapist search process.

If they still resist, there are some things you can do to highlight the importance of therapy:

  • Try to use your relationship as leverage, in a loving way. Tell them how important your relationship with them is to you and how it could benefit from their seeking therapy. Avoid giving an ultimatum, as it can cause emotional distress.
  • Name their admirable qualities, as it’s easier to appeal to someone by pointing out what you like about them. By pointing out their positive qualities, you might motivate them to take the necessary steps to better themselves even further.
  • Explain specific areas of problematic behavior, keeping in mind that most people who refuse therapy may claim that they don’t have a problem. By pointing out specific problems without coming off as judgmental, you can help them see the need for seeking professional help.

Remember that at the end of the day, they have to be bought in, they have to show up for the phone consultation to gauge whether their potential therapist is a good fit, and they have to be the one that says, “Okay, I am ready to do this.”

When trying to convince someone else to go to therapy, modeling the behavior you want to see can be incredibly effective

If you’re encouraging someone else to go to therapy, it will make the most sense to them if you’re in therapy yourself and they can see the tremendous strides that you have made in your life. They’ll notice if you’ve gotten closer to your goals or are embracing your values or are starting to see positive shifts in your relationships or your work or personal life and start to wonder if what’s working so well for you might work well for them also.

While you can’t simply convince someone else to go to therapy, there are things you can do to support them and encourage them to start

By setting your own boundaries, tapping into your sense of curiosity, and modeling the behaviors you’d like them to mirror, you’ll be able to give them the nudge they might need to find the support they deserve.

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About the author

Caitlin is MyWellbeing's Content Lead, a writer, speaker, communication coach, and the founder of Commcoterie, a communication consultancy. She teaches teams how to use professional coaching communication techniques in their everyday conversations, helps leaders engage their teams with effective and inclusive communication, and partners with service providers to activate their programs and offerings with their own clients through inspiring communication strategies. Find out more, including how to work with her, at www.commcoterie.com.

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