Every so often, I’m overcome with gratitude to live in an age where mental health is finally becoming “mainstream.” Every day, more and more people are becoming open to talking about their mental health, pursuing therapy, and experiences that in the past would just be taboo to talk about.
Even with all this being the case, it can still be challenging to suggest therapy to those we love. While we might be comfortable speaking about our own experience, we worry about offending or hurting people if they misunderstand our intentions or motivations. When it comes to suggesting a friend start therapy, it can get especially tricky.
We want to be there for our friends when they need us. We will do everything we can to support them, to remind them of their worth, and show them they are loved. When someone we love is struggling, we want to honor the trust they’ve awarded us. Women in particular are prone to shouldering too much on their own- sometimes jeopardizing their own well being in the process.
Through all this, it’s critical to remember that sometimes being a good friend means connecting those we care about with the support we ourselves cannot provide. Mental health professionals are just that- professionals who are trained to identify and provide the right support and resources that someone struggling might need. When someone we love is struggling, nudging them towards the right support is the best possible thing you can do for them. So how do we suggest a friend start therapy?
Here’s how to start the conversation, and some tips to keep in mind when you do.
Be Mindful and Gentle
When you first bring up therapy, be mindful of where you are and how your friend or loved one is feeling. Pick a time that you can speak in private and comfortably, and ideally when they will be relaxed and receptive. Know that she’s usually exhausted and frustrated in the evenings after work? Probably not the best time.
Reach out in advance and ask if they can go on a walk, or get a meal or light snack with you one on one. Approach the conversation with care, but also with friendliness and a relaxed tone. Your tone will color your friend’s reception of it. If you treat it gravely, she might become unnecessarily intimidated. Approach it with a gentle, open curiosity. Something like, “I know you’ve been going through a lot right now. Have you ever thought about therapy?” can show them you empathize with their situation and are interested in their thoughts on therapy.
Be Prepared and Supportive
There’s a good chance you have no idea how your friend will respond. They may be open and grateful, or taken aback, or even offended. Be prepared for pushback, and don’t take it personally. This may be an ongoing conversation- and through it all, you want the takeaway to be that you are trying to support them, not force them. Hear their hesitations with the intent of truly listening and taking their fears and doubts to heart. Acknowledge and validate their fears and concerns and assure them that you are there to help them find a therapy path that they would be comfortable with.
Be Honest and Vulnerable
If you have experience with therapy, it can be incredibly powerful to share it with someone who is on the fence. If you show your friend or loved one that you are comfortable and grateful for therapy, it can go a long way in showing them they can be too.
Share your own motivations and drivers for pursuing therapy, and any learnings that you’ve been grateful for. Encourage questions and voice the hesitations you yourself might have had, and how you overcame them. As the conversation wraps, bring it back to them. Express that you love and care for them, and just want them to be the happiest and healthiest version of themselves they can be.