How To Encourage Someone To See A Therapist

Photographed by Bianca Valle.
When a person you care about is going through something, it's only natural to want to do everything you can to help them feel better. While this person is probably very grateful to have your support, there's really only so much you can do as a friend, family member, or even partner. There comes a point where they could really benefit from seeing a professional who can provide some unbiased advice and insight. But saying, You need therapy, doesn't always go smoothly.
"Many people push back against the idea that they can't solve a problem on their own," says Kristin Zeising, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and couples therapist in San Diego. The reality is that we live in an "individualistic society," in which you're expected to be able to fix all of your problems, so going to therapy is often seen as a weakness, Dr. Zeising explains. "There is a sense of shame for not feeling emotionally healthy, yet going to a therapist to assist in becoming emotionally healthy is often stigmatized," she says. Someone who hasn't been to therapy might also feel vulnerable or scared about sharing their intimate thoughts with a therapist they've never met, Dr. Zeising says, adding, "They may fear being judged or feel like no one else would understand their experience."
But going to therapy is awesome, and tons of people see a therapist. A 2004 survey found that 48% of people polled reported that someone in their household had seen a mental health professional — and you can expect that number to be way higher today. Any person who thinks that they are "not living up to all they could be" would benefit from therapy, according to Dr. Zeising. If you want to persuade someone to see a therapist, here are a few tools you can use.
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Repeat the concerns they've expressed to you.

Being on the receiving end of a chronic complainer can be very frustrating, especially if you're doling out advice and it feels like they're not taking it. Dr. Zeising recommends repeating some of the concerns that your friend has expressed to you back to them. You don't have to be a parrot, but if you remind them of some of the things they've been telling you in a compassionate way, it can be eye-opening.

"If they’ve opened up to you about feeling sad, anxious, or hopeless, then let them know that you recognize these feelings and that therapy can be a good place to get help to resolve them," Dr. Zeising says.

This will make them feel like they're being heard, and also might help them realize that they've already identified the issues as problematic, she says.
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Explain why you love therapy.

You might want to use this as an opportunity to share a positive experience that you had after going to therapy (if you've gone), Dr. Zeising says. Tell them about a time when you went through something similar, and explain how your therapist helped you. Again, it's important to be "gentle and supportive" in your delivery, so it doesn't sound like you're being preachy, she says. "If you come across as too authoritative, you may be putting your loved one in a defensive position, and they may ultimately reject the idea of therapy," she says.

Some people balk at going to therapy because they hold onto the misconception that high-functioning people don't need it, Dr. Zeising says. "Many people still equate seeking help with being weak," she says. If this person thinks highly of you (which they probably do if they're going to you for advice), then there's a good chance hearing that even you go to therapy might get rid of some of the stigma.
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Frame therapy as "coaching."

Using a simple metaphor might help someone grasp why therapy is a good idea. Dr. Zeising says you could try to compare it to coaching or school: "You go to a coach to learn how to be a better ball player, why not get coaching skills to help with challenges in life?" she says. If the person doesn't play sports, any other relevant activity that requires coaching also works in this scenario.

Even though we're educated to get by in the world from a practical, logical sense, we're not always taught how emotions fit into the big picture, she explains. "We don't have a class on relational skills and coping," she says. It might be helpful for some people to see therapy through this lens — that they're going to learn skills, rather than "fix" something.
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Ask them to articulate where they're getting help currently.

Someone might react to your suggestion to go to therapy by saying that they can deal with their problems on their own, Dr. Zeising says. Ask them how that's been working out. "Not to be snarky, but ask if they can really do it all on their own, then wouldn't they feel better?" she says. Of course, if you don't already have a solid relationship with the person you're saying this to, they might not interpret it as something that's intended to help them. "Remind them that it takes courage and strength to reach out for help, and those are admirable qualities," she says.
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Know that you can't make them do anything.

Despite all your encouragement and effort, ultimately, it's the person's decision whether or not they go to therapy, Dr. Zeising says. "You can't control others, even if you have the best intentions," she says. The best thing you can do is just let them know that you're there to help, and offer some resources if you can, she says. Following up to see if they've actually found a therapist to go to could feel like you're nagging them. "Give them some breathing room," Dr. Zeising says. "You can come back to continue the conversation another day and can ask them how they're doing." They have the option to tell you about going to a therapist, but they don't owe it to you to keep you posted, she says.

If you do follow up, make sure it's not coming from a desire to control them, Dr. Zeising says. "Let them know you have been thinking of them and their struggles, and are concerned about them," she says. "It's up to them how they want to proceed."