These days therapy is more normalized amongst Americans than ever, with ever-increasing numbers of people seeking mental health treatment (APA, 2004). Since the onset of the pandemic, this demographic has grown as more options for mental health treatment have become available. Despite the expanding options and numbers of Americans embracing steps towards mental wellness, there are people who remain uncertain—often believing and perpetuating the stigma regarding mental health treatment. They may be more inclined to use their network of friends, family, and partners. While this network can be a great resource, total reliance on it can also create an unintended burden on loved ones. So, for the burdened among us, let’s explore how to tell our loved ones that they need to go to therapy (nicely, of course).
Let's first acknowledge the simple truth that people like feeling needed. It feels great when people come to us for help or guidance. Helping feels good. However, there are times when those who could benefit from the assistance of a trained therapist may continue to lean on us for help, causing us to burn out and/or resent them for engaging in the very behavior we’ve helped facilitate. Basically, we get mad at people in our lives when they come to us for answers and we give them the answers they seek. Do you see how this works? We are complicit in perpetuating our own anger and misery in our need to feel needed. See? Therapy! 😊
While acknowledging that we all can benefit from an outside perspective from time to time, how do we mention the topic with those who have expressed resistance to the idea in the past?
- Be encouraging. Encouragement is vital! There are times when others may rely on us (especially those in the helping profession) because you are their friend, partner, or family member. Although we may not want to, we need to set a boundary for ourselves to acknowledge when we may not be the best person to help. Encouragement means that we gently tell them when we may not be the best help and explain why a therapist should help them talk through their feelings.
- Provide them with proper information. While the benefits of therapy are now openly discussed, bias and stigma are hard to undo. A frank and honest discussion about therapy, providing information on how it works and what to expect, can help with taking the first step. They might also be daunted by the perceived expectation of what they need to provide—insurance, time, dedication, you name it. If you can, research together about payment and whatever else they may need to start. We have an entire department dedicated to making the process of starting as painless as possible!
- Meet resistance with curiosity. Questions like “tell me more about your hesitation” or asking them what’s going on in their mind can be effective. There’s likely an earnest reason behind their reluctance—and their resistance might keep building if they feel as if they are being judged and/or interrogated by a loved one. When we approach others with sincere curiosity, it can help alleviate feelings of judgment. Try to understand their point of view. Help explore what’s stopping them together.
- Honor their autonomy. Therapy can be hard. And for most of us, it is difficult to open up to strangers. It’s okay if the person who may need to go to therapy initially decides that it’s not for them. Even if we think it’s in their best interest to go, they might not be ready. And going back to the first tip—be encouraging! It’s common for a person to attend their first session, end up not vibing with their therapist, and as a result quit the journey altogether. It’s okay! There might be a million reasons why they don’t want to go back. Be respectful and just keep trying. People will be ready in their own time. And when they are, we’re here.