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?
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.”
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.
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 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.
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.”
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.
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.
Caitlin is an organizational change strategist, advisor, writer, and the founder of Commcoterie, a change management communication consultancy. She helps leaders and the consultants who work with them communicate change for long-lasting impact. Caitlin is a frequent speaker, workshop facilitator, panelist, and podcast guest on topics such as organizational change, internal communication strategy, DEIBA, leadership and learning, management and coaching, women in the workplace, mental health and wellness at work, and company culture. Find out more, including how to work with her, at www.commcoterie.com.