How to Gently Suggest Mental Health Therapy to Someone

Posted by Lauren Presutti in Life After Paralysis on September 21, 2022 # Health

Therapy There is nothing worse than seeing a friend or loved one struggling with their mental health and not knowing how to help. It feels like your hands are tied. You want to just wave a magic wand and “fix” their struggles, but you can’t. After a loved one experiences a spinal cord injury, many family members struggle greatly with this. You want to do everything you can to help them heal from the trauma, both physically and mentally, but it’s difficult. Friends of the family affected also struggle with this. You want to help the family members who are witnessing their loved one be diagnosed with paralysis, but it’s hard to know where to start. Mental health is complicated, and myriad underlying emotions, influences, thoughts, and experiences could impact someone’s mental health. Sorting these things out is like unraveling the world’s biggest knot. It’s tough. It’s so important to let your friend or loved one know that you care about them, you’re there for them, and they are not alone. Sometimes just being there for people, sitting beside them and simply listening is the best thing you can do for someone.

But if their symptoms aren’t going away and there is a continuous struggle that leaves you wondering what more you can do, consider talking to your friend or loved one about starting therapy. The idea of suggesting therapy to someone often makes people cringe, because they don’t know what to say or not say, and they feel afraid of how to bring up the subject without offending someone. Let’s talk about how to gently bring up the subject.

First, talk to your friend or loved one in a private environment during a time when you and the person are getting along well. Be sure to emphasize that you’re bringing up the subject because you care about them. Remain calm and collected. There is no reason for you to become agitated or anxious about the subject. You want to convey the idea that therapy is normal, healthy, and very common. It’s helpful to remind the person that therapy is something many people engage in and benefit from. Speak in a very casual tone, just as you would for any other subject relating to someone’s wellness. It’s critical to avoid stereotypes, avoid using derogatory language, and avoid suggesting that the person “needs therapy” in a way that makes them feel ashamed. Instead, remind the person that going to therapy is one of the strongest things they can do for themselves. Choosing to seek treatment for mental health is an extraordinary act of personal courage.

Emphasize that mental health is just as important as physical health. Try comparing therapy to seeing a doctor for any other medical condition. Treating your mental health is just as valid as treating any other part of your body. Remind the person that mental health conditions like anxiety and depression are treatable and can be managed. Tell the person that it is possible for them to feel better and overcome trauma with treatment. It’s important to convey ideas of hope and recovery through this conversation. Be prepared to listen and validate their feelings, whatever they may be.

Not sure how to start the conversation? The following examples might be helpful for you:

“Hi, I don’t want you to take this the wrong way, and I’m only mentioning it because I really care about you so much. Would you be interested in talking with a therapist? I know that you’re struggling, and it hurts me to know that you’re hurting. It might be helpful.”

“Maybe you have already considered this, but I was just wondering if you think talking to a therapist might be helpful. It sucks to see that you’re struggling, and you deserve to be happier. So many people go to therapy nowadays, it’s no big deal. Maybe you would like to talk to someone safe and confidential?”

“Hi, I’ve noticed that you haven’t been yourself lately and I’m wondering if you are struggling with things that a therapist could help with? I hate to see you feeling so down and I want to help you get connected to anything that would be helpful.”

“I know that things have been really hard for you, and I think that a therapist may be able to help you gain some strategies for coping with this."

(If a spinal cord injury is very recent) - “Recovering from such a significant trauma like this is not easy and it’s so important to focus on both physical and mental recovery. Your body needs to heal, but your mind also needs to heal. Many people also find that focusing on mental health recovery early on is so critical for long-term health. It’s okay if you don’t want to talk about it with your family or me right now, but would you be willing to talk to someone confidentially? It might help just to have a safe outlet.”

(For a family member or loved one) - “You are experiencing trauma, too! It must be so devastating to witness everything happening to your loved one. Your life is changing, too. Your feelings and experiences are valid, too. It might be helpful to talk with a therapist about how to make sense of all of this.”

It’s also important to remember this is not your decision. It is their decision. You are simply bringing up an idea that may be helpful for them, but if your friend or loved one is not ready for therapy, you cannot force them to be ready. People who are forced to be in therapy typically do not engage in the process, and it is very difficult to make progress during the session when someone resents being in therapy. If it feels like you are pushing them too much, please take a step back because coercing someone into therapy is not going to help (it may actually make them feel worse).

However, if the person is open to discussing it, this is a great opportunity to talk about their preferences and options. Would they be interested in online therapy? Or do they need a face-to-face treatment option? What kind of health insurance do they have? Do they prefer a male or female therapist?

The biggest takeaway message from the conversation should be that therapy is accessible for them if they so choose. It’s normal to have some fears and nervousness about starting therapy, but if the person is brave enough to get started, they will likely find relief in the process, and therapy will feel much more comfortable after they meet their therapist.

To learn about River Oaks Psychology, visit www.riveroakspsychology.com and follow River Oaks Psychology on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.