I love it when people tell me they don’t think they need therapy, because often it’s the telltale sign that they do. You might have someone in your life that you KNOW needs therapy. They might insist, after their millionth angry outburst, or perhaps coolly rationally while you are confused and crazy, that they’re fine and don’t need to be suckered into paying someone to listen to them.
So how can you get someone like that to darken a therapist’s door?
I’ll give you the punchline first: You can’t.
You can’t make someone go to therapy any more than you can make someone love you.
But you can make it easier for someone who is on the fence about therapy to take the leap. Here are some ways to increase the chances your spouse, teenaged child, friend, parent, or whoever, might be willing to give therapy a try:
1. You can go to therapy yourself.
I cannot EVEN tell you how many current therapy clients are not the ones that most need therapy in their families or communities or marriages. It’s so often the more functional, more emotionally intelligent, more perceptive, more grounded person that pays one-to-two-hundred-dollars per week to help manage the less functional, less emotionally aware people around them.
If you’re the healthier person, it may seem unfair that you’d be the one shelling out to talk every week. But if you go to therapy, that means that you are the person that gets to be heard and validated, you get to learn to love yourself better and grow emotionally. And you deserve that.
Often, when we are convinced that someone else needs to change for us to be happier, we find in therapy that we can make changes within ourselves that we didn’t know were possible. If you feel you’ve “tried everything” with the person who you wish would go to therapy, consider trying therapy yourself, and see what happens.
Therapy is an investment. Like exercise, it takes some time and effort to start to see benefits, but unlike exercise, the benefits don’t fade when you stop going! If someone in your life needs therapy, consider going yourself first. You won’t regret it.
2. You can normalize therapy in your conversations.
You might be waiting for the perfect moment to sit down with someone, look them in the eyes, take their hand and say, “Sweetie, I think you need therapy.” And that can be good (see the next point), but it can also make THERAPY feel big and shameful and taboo. The same philosophy goes for talking to kids and teens about sex. If they hear in your voice that the word “SEX” weighs ten thousand pounds, they are going to be afraid to bring it up themselves. But if it’s sprinkled into conversation, spoken of as a normal human experience that’s okay to talk about, they’ll feel less scared and embarrassed about it.
It’s possible that the person in your life who needs therapy has at some point considered going, but worries that seeing a therapist would mean she’s *really* got problems. If you bring up THERAPY with too much gravitas, it could confirm that fear.
So rather than one big talk, sprinkle the word “therapy” throughout your daily conversation. If you’re in therapy, share what you’re comfortable sharing (the exception here is if your audience is mocking or dismissive of your therapy. That is not okay, and you have a right to protect yourself against it). Talk about how you wish therapy was cheaper and more available. Talk about friends you know who love their therapists, or have started therapy or switched therapists or recently ended therapy. Make “therapy” sound like it weighs an ounce or less.
3. You can say directly, “I want you to go to therapy,” and why, using I-statements and non-judgmental language.
You may have already tried this, but if you haven’t, go for it. Practice ahead of time so you can intentionally remove harshness, blame, and criticism from your tone and language. (This means instead of, “You need to go to therapy before you ruin this marriage!” try “I worry when we fight about the same thing over and over. I’d love for you to go to counseling and talk about what your part in this is.” And of course, your case is strengthened if you are willing to do the same).
The best motivation for someone to go to therapy is the hope that they will feel more free, more empowered, and more connected to themselves and others. So, even if your main motivation for recommending therapy is because you want someone to stop driving you batshit, it might be more effective to let them know what’s in it for them. “I want you to be less anxious so you can enjoy your life more. I believe therapy will help you get there.”
The hard news is, sometimes you have to make decisions for yourself based on the fact that another person cannot or will not change or grow. This can include going to therapy yourself, limiting contact, setting boundaries, getting your needs met in other relationships, and sometimes ending hopeless relationships.
But sometimes, people say “hell no” when they mean, “I’m really scared of that.” If you keep putting therapy gently on the table for a while, withstanding some backlash (as long as the backlash does not include violence, blame, or character attacks), your person may soften enough to give therapy a try. And who knows, maybe they’ll start asking you how to get someone else to go to therapy.