How to tell a loved on that you think they should get professional help (without sounding like a know-it-all)
It’s pretty rough seeing someone you care about suffer low moods and other symptoms of depression. Sometimes it can be obvious to us as outsiders, that a loved one might benefit from seeing a therapist – an expert who can provide evidence-based tools to help.
But how can you sensitively tell someone that you think therapy might be a good idea without hurting them, getting them on the defence OR even turning them against the idea completely?
Disclaimer: this advice is intended for those aged 18+ who are concerned about a person showing mild symptoms of depression. If they are exhibiting severe mental health distress and/or are at harm to themselves/others call the appropriate services):
Emergency services: 000
Lifeline: 13 11 14
How to tell someone you think they should try therapy
- Make sure that your suggestion is an informed one
Before anything, do your research! It’s important to be sure about what you are actually suggesting and why. Beyond Blue has fantastic resources to help recognise the signs and symptoms of depression. Reminder: just because your relationship with them has changed, they do things you disagree with, or would like them to behave differently, doesn’t automatically mean they need therapy.
2. Start the conversation by talking in a comfortable and private space
Therapy is a sensitive topic for many, so it’s likely best that the conversation happens one-on-one. It’s also useful to be mindful of your surroundings. Choosing somewhere where your loved one feels safe and cosy is an ideal location.
3. Clarify your motives behind wanting them to seek help
It’s easy for someone to jump on the defence at the suggestion of “needing” therapy. Unfortunately, this comes down to the stigma attached to mental illness. Since your good intentions can be misinterpreted, be clear about the *why* so your loved one understands that your suggestion has their best interests in mind.
4. Be gentle and take the conversation seriously
We’ve all heard it before, but communication really is key, and people really do remember how you made them feel more so than what was said – so your approach is vital. An example of a gentle phrase:
“As your partner (best friend, sister, parent etc), I am always here for you. I have noticed you have been struggling with (anxiety, stress, depression etc) and I’m thinking that maybe therapy would be helpful. While I will support you, I am not an expert. Would you like to research some psychologists together?”
5. Destigmatise the experience and prepare for some resistance
It’s really sucky that there are still many misconceptions about mental illness…this means that someone might feel initially ashamed or insulted that you’re suggesting they try therapy. Language (body and words) are super important when tackling this conversation. Adopting an empathic approach can make all the difference.
6. Share your experience
If you have engaged in therapy yourself (and you’re comfortable), It might be useful to share your experience. Remember to be authentic and explain that there are many different psychologists out there, so it might take some time to find the right “fit.” You can take our therapist matching quiz to get started.
7. Consider if you may benefit from therapy yourself
Be honest with yourself here. If it’s a really big deal for you that your loved one seeks professional help – where you are beginning to feel anxious, and upset if they don’t – then perhaps you may want to consider if you are the one who would benefit from therapy. Remember, we cannot “force” anyone to do anything, but we can influence our own behaviours. Also, you do not have to hit “rock bottom” before seeking help.
8. Ultimately allow them to decide
No matter how much you care about someone, they will have to make their own choices. If they are reluctant to try therapy right now, forcing or guilting them into going will only push them further away from the idea and stifle your relationship. Practising patience, reminding them that you’re here for support, using your own personal boundaries and leaving them to decide is your best course of action.
We’re here for you
You can get in touch with an Indigo practitioner here. However, we acknowledge that there is a current waitlist to see an Indigo Practitioner + sometimes therapy is a huge financial burden.
This article was written by @laurabeddoe, provisional psychologist and freelance content creator for The Indigo Project.