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How to Help a Loved One Go Through Counseling? A partner, child or friend.

We are made for relationships. But relationships take work. Sometimes, that work is investing in ourselves in new ways and at other times its supporting those around us, as they navigate challenges. Think of concentric circles. As the circles move outward, the circle gets bigger. This is like support. As we learn to be cared for, and care for ourselves, we grow in our ability to offer care outwards to the next circle out.

Sometimes, we encounter someone who is experiencing something bigger than we have capacity for. This can be overwhelming. And, it may be a sign that more support is needed. If you care about someone who is experiencing psychological or emotional distress and needs support beyond what you are able to provide, there is hope. The following tips can help support you in your journey to grow their support network and add to the community of care for them.

  • Be sensitive
    to time and place when addressing bigger topics. Make sure that the environment isn’t too loud or exposing. It is important to help people feel safe when addressing bigger topics so that it doesn’t add to the overall stress. The environment can play a huge role in one’s openness to considering a new idea, like going to therapy or receiving feedback about themselves. Make sure to consider the environment before beginning a conversation.
  • Be curious, ask questions about what’s going on for them.
    It seems like there is an assumption that asking someone how they’re doing will make it worse. I believe this is false. Someone may not choose to talk about it, but that’s different than making it worse. Talking is a way to see things from a different angle, so inviting someone to talk about something that may be bothering them is a sign of care. Example: I’m wondering how you’re doing?
  • Make observations about what you see, in nonjudgmental ways.
    This is another way of showing people that you see them. This can be a deeply meaningful experience for people, to feel seen by those around them. It can also create some vulnerability on their part, so they may not choose to engage in much conversation at that moment, but may be willing to revisit it at a later time. I think of this as seed planting. Example: I notice that you’re not spending as much time with your friends, would you like to talk about that?. Or, I’ve noticed that you’re more quiet lately, would you like to talk about that?
  • Express your care for them with statements like “I care for you, and what you’re going through”
    Sometimes less is more. Just letting someone know that you care for them can be helpful and remind them that they’re not alone.
  • Be prepared for some resistance or defensiveness.
    Loved ones may not initially exclaim that you’re right and thank you for your encouragement. They may wiggle and squirm away from the idea. This is normal, especially when someone may be surprised by the ideas or concerns being addressed. Try not to take this personally. The defensiveness you may experience from them isn’t about you, but is about how they’re taking in the information. It will likely pass as they have some additional time to consider what you’re addressing
  • Ask them about their thoughts about therapy:
    Feel free to ask gently, but directly about their thoughts regarding counseling. “I’m wondering if you’ve ever thought about talking to a counselor about this?” Again, think of this like seed planting. The goal is to broach the topic, not convince them at that moment that they need therapy. Consider the goal to be more about opening the door to more conversation about how they’re doing, and what else they can do to help themselves.
  • Remind them of humanity.
    Humans struggle from time to time. No one is exempt from this. There is no shame in not doing well. It happens to all of us. Share about your experiences of struggle and what has helped you, if they’re open to hearing. It’s often helpful for people to know that they’re not alone, but that their struggle is still unique to them. And while you may not know exactly what they’re going through, you too, have experienced struggle. Try to not compare struggles but acknowledge that struggling is part of human existence.
  • Offer to be supportive in practical ways,
    helping research therapists in the area, driving them to their first appointment, waiting for them in the waiting area, following up with them after their appointment. It is important to support the person to do the work of connecting with a counselor (making the phone call) if at all possible, but offering to be available while they’re doing so can be helpful.
  • Take care of yourself, to restore your energy (emotional and physical energy) by doing things that are life giving and restorative.
    Find hobbies to engage in that recharge you. Take care of yourself with diet, exercise, being connected to your own support system. This will help you build capacity to care for others.

No matter if a loved one is entering therapy for the first time, or has been in therapy for a while, your continued encouragement and support will mean a lot. I like to remind folks of a few things:

  • Don’t be afraid to ask how things are going in therapy.
    Checking in is a good thing. Be curious and ask, questions like: “How are things going in counseling?”
  • Feel free to ask if there are things they are learning or exploring that they’d like to talk about.
    Ask if there are ways you can support them? This allows the client to become the expert on what they need or don’t need. They may not know, but may be able to tell you that being checked in on is helpful.
  • Remind them of their bravery.
    I tell my clients all the time what a brave step it is for them to come see me. I also believe counseling is for everyone, but it takes a step of bravery to show up. Applaud them for this.
  • Share with them details of positive changes you see in them.
    This is encouraging and helps people feel seen.
  • Continue to take care of yourself
    so you can continue to support them (see above).

 

Resource links:

  1. How to Encourage Someone to See a Therapist
  2. What To Do When A Loved One Needs Mental Health Help
  3. How to Help Someone Who Needs Therapy

 

This post was written by a professional counselor for informational use only and is not intended to replace advice from a professional who is working directly with you as a patient [or client].

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