At TheMindClan, we are strong advocates for mental health care that breaks away from the cookie-cutter approach. We recognize that mental health care can look different for different people, and everyone’s support systems are very personal.
A question we often get asked during workshops and conversations, is “How do I encourage my partner/family member/friend to seek professional help?".
This has always been a hard question for us to answer, but as always, we will attempt to do so by centering people’s contexts.
Broadly, bringing this question up with a loved one depends on these important factors:
- What is their context, background, and story?
- What are some fears and misconceptions they may hold about therapy?
- Why is now the most important time for you to bring this up with them? Are you playing the role of an active caregiver with them? Has this been something you’ve been afraid/scared to bring up with them for a while?
- Why do you think therapy is the only option for them right now? Could there be other mental health resources or services that they could benefit from too? (Like events, support groups, resources, etc. As mentioned in point 7)
What are some things you could consider?
There may never be a perfectly right way to approach them with the idea of professional therapy, but here are some thoughts to get you started. Remember to follow and adapt them based on what fits right for your situation.
1) Experience therapy yourself:
If you haven’t already, try reaching out to professional support for yourself. If your loved ones see your personal growth in therapy, they may be more open to finding support for themselves. This also allows you to speak to your therapist about how to bring this topic up with your loved one.
2) Check their biases:
Each of us naturally hold certain preconceived notions about therapy and its workings, some or most of which may be heavily influenced by stigma around mental health. Your loved one could also be struggling with dominant ideas around dependence, weakness, being undeserving of help, or internalizing the problem as something being wrong or flawed about them. Find a way to recognize your loved one’s biases and difficulties, and respond to them with respect and compassion.
3) Let them know you still care:
Reassure your loved one that your suggestion for them seeking therapy is coming from an intention of care and love that you have towards them. You may want to share some things you’ve been noticing about them that are concerning you. Remind your loved one that you want to be able to show up for them in a way that can be helpful, and the therapist can be one more person in your loved one’s support team.
4) Remember That This could be a long process:
Their decision to seek therapy may not happen overnight. You may have to work each day to try and inch them towards this step. In a way, this is almost the same process as convincing a family to adopt a pet. You’ve to meet them where they are, and slowly work your way up from there.
5) Don’t give ultimatums:
Suggesting therapy to a loved one as a demand being placed on them or scaring them with consequences can be more harmful than helpful. Doing so could be coming from your personal feelings of frustration and a real desire to see your loved one cope better with life’s difficulties. Remember, your experience is absolutely valid. However, ultimatums could increase the apprehension and intimidation surrounding therapy that your loved one might already be dealing with. Try to recognise that they have the right to make decisions for their mental health a time that they feel ready. All we can do is let them know that we will be around to support them when they choose to take the first step towards therapy.
We also understand that people often give ultimatums when they have tried their hardest to support a loved one and are slowly reaching a point of last resorts. If your loved one’s mental health difficulties are coming in the way of your relationship with them, you can communicate this to them openly and lovingly. Share your feelings about how the problem has been impacting you and interrupting your relationship with them too. Try to be open about your struggles in a manner of expressing your truth but not blaming them. Your experience is just as valid as theirs.
6) Work through pain points together:
Small steps matter. Once you’ve got the ball rolling, you can support them in taking little steps towards therapy. These steps may include researching therapists together, finding one that resonates with your loved one, making the first call to the therapist, using a resource that can ease them into their first session, and even accompanying them for the first session if that may be supportive for them.
7) Respect their preferences for mental health care:
It’s important to ask for (and respect) any specific preferences your loved one might have for the kind of therapist they would like to meet. These preferences can include the therapist being intersectional and affirmative, their number of years of experience, location, fee budget, etc. Ultimately, if your loved one is not feeling ready to seek professional help and are not relenting to your efforts, it’s okay. If this is about supporting them, you can offer other options for mental health care such as attending a workshop, a support group meeting, sending them articles, videos and other resources to ease them into the process.
Mental health care is long term journey. Encouraging your loved one to seek therapy can go hand in hand with prioritizing your personal mental health. Normalizing interdependence on each other and open communication are crucial elements to supporting your loved ones, with respect and care.
Recognize the agency and resilience that you both hold and have been holding all this while. You got this.