Hi, my name is Veronica Vargas, and I’m a psychotherapist at myTherapyNYC. In this video blog, we’ll be answering the question, “how do I convince someone to go to therapy?” Convincing someone to go to therapy can be a really tough conversation. When we care deeply about our loved ones, we’re often willing to do whatever we can to support them. However, sometimes professional assistance is necessary to make sure that they get the care they need and deserve. Starting therapy can feel intimidating for most people, so it’s important that we approach our loved ones with compassion, empathy, and respect. Here are the do’s and don’ts of convincing someone to go to therapy.
Don’t Give an Ultimatum
Ultimatums are never a good method of getting someone to do something. They can come off as controlling and send the message that you’re more concerned about your welfare than theirs. According to marriage and family therapists, ultimatums are particularly damaging because they are threats that force changes in behavior. When a behavior is forced to change, it’s likely that the change won’t be sustainable or even beneficial. We want to respect other people’s autonomy and empower them to make their own decisions. Instead, be curious.
Do Be Curious
If someone is apprehensive about starting therapy, be curious about why. For someone who has never been in therapy before, the idea of opening up to a stranger about their hardest struggles can be really scary. It’s completely normal to feel fearful, so we want to make sure that we give our loved ones the space to openly process and explore that fear with someone safe. There can be so many other reasons why someone may be reluctant to start therapy. This can include financial constraints, lack of time, or lack of access to resources. This is why we want to ask questions. Some good questions to ask are, “What do you think is holding you back from seeking help?” “What comes up for you when you think about starting therapy?” “What other methods of coping have you tried?”
Don’t Be Judgmental
If you’re at the point where you feel like you need to convince someone to go to therapy, chances are their mental health isn’t in the best shape. We want to make sure that we’re avoiding any harsh judgments so that we don’t worsen the person’s mental state. Judgmental statements can sound like, “It’s irresponsible that you aren’t taking care of yourself.” “The way you’re living your life is sad.” These statements can inflict shame and blame onto the person who’s struggling. They can even add on to negative thought cycles they may already be engaging in.
Do Be Gentle
Be mindful of the tone of your voice and the pace of your speaking. You may feel a bit nervous when having this conversation. If so, take a moment to check in with yourself and take some deep breaths. Slow down if you find yourself blabbering, and be intentional about the words you say. Use affirming language, and frequently highlight the fact that you care deeply about this person. Some examples of affirming statements are, “You are so loved.” “You are in charge of your life story.” This requires some vulnerability, which may feel uncomfortable, but sometimes it’s important to express to people how much they mean to us.
Don’t Make It About You
Try your best not to focus the conversation on how you’re impacted by the person’s struggles. It may seem supportive to say, “It hurts me to see you like this,” or, “You make me so worried.” However, these kinds of statements can also elicit shame. They imply that the other person is to blame for your negative emotions. This also might make the person feel like they have to hide their struggles from you to protect you. That hiding will only cause more distance and isolation for them.
Do Talk About Your Own Experience
Generally, we want to focus most of the conversation on the other person. However, we can talk about our own experiences in therapy to model vulnerability. This can also normalize the hesitation that people often feel when first starting therapy. For example, you can say something like, “It took me years to finally start therapy. It was really hard at first, but it feels great to have someone to vent to every week.” If you feel comfortable, you can even talk about your own realizations or insights that you’ve had since starting therapy. If this feels too personal, you can also connect the person to resources that have helped you in the past.
Don’t Push Too Hard
Once the conversation is over, give the person some time to process their thoughts and feelings. Try not to bombard them with questions about whether they’ve made up their mind or started looking into therapists. This can come off as too pushy and might make the person feel pressured, maybe even a bit annoyed.
Do Check In
After some time has passed, check in with the person to see how they’re feeling about starting therapy. Again, approach them with curiosity and ask open-ended questions. If they tell you that they did decide to start therapy, celebrate their courage in making such a huge step for their mental health. If they tell you that they didn’t decide to start, give them the space to talk about why, but remember that they don’t owe you an explanation. Regardless of the outcome, the best way to support our loved ones is to approach them with curiosity, compassion, empathy, and respect.
How was your experience helping a loved one start therapy? Leave your comments below!
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