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To witness someone who you care about suffering or struggling can be difficult. It can feel heartbreaking to know that that person could benefit from professional help and yet not see them take that step. Approaching a loved one with the, “Hey, I think you need to talk to someone.” can be a challenging task, but one that we think we can help you navigate.

4 tips for telling someone to go to counseling: 


1. Identify your expectation.

Resistance in some cases is to be expected. Remember, just because it is clear to you that help is needed, it does not mean that it is clear to them. Before speaking, prepare your talking points. Know what you want to say and how you want to say it. Be prepared to be specific and concrete. Highlight the positive qualities of the person and express what the relationship means to you. Showing that you care for and appreciate this person will help make the conversation lighter and more manageable. 


2. Be encouraging, supportive, and empathic. 

Suggesting counseling to someone can feel quite personal, which is why you want to be sure to be mindful of the way you are coming across: What is the tone and volume of your voice? What is your body language communicating?, What words and phrasing are you using? What is your overall attitude? Are you validating their experience? Can you both be assertive and gentle when speaking? Remember that many people feel judged by the idea that there may be something wrong with them and that they might need counseling. Check in with your own stigmatizing beliefs and biases before speaking up. You can then help the other person break theirs down with more support and understanding. 


3. Be mindful of the time and place. 

Folks, please do not have this conversation in public or in front of anyone who is not involved with this situation. Respect the person’s privacy and the sensitivity of it all. This is essential. The environment in which you have this conversation can make it or break it and interfere with the desired outcome. Forget about interventions (like what you see on TV) and allow room and space for the person to decide what they want to do without having the pressure or perceived judgment of a group. 

The person’s mood (and yours) when having this conversation should also be a factor to be considered. Think, “When would be the best time to talk to this person that could bring the best outcome?” There may not be a perfect time, but there are definitely better times than others. 


4. Offer more than just a suggestion. 

Come prepared to not only tell but show this person that you are there for support. Be specific about how you are willing to help. This may look like:

  • helping them research and find a therapist

  • being present when they reach out and make an appointment

  • attending the appointment and staying in the waiting room

  • helping them find resources like connection circles, support groups, hotlines, etc.

A few more things to consider: 


  • Culturally: Not everyone’s culture will view mental health and the need for professional help the same way. Extra education, information, and support may be needed for those whose stigma is bigger than just their personal beliefs.

  • Financially: Being able to afford therapy in many cases is a privilege and a luxury. Therapy is not necessarily the most affordable or accessible service. Even with insurance, (which not everyone has) therapy is not always covered. Be mindful of this when approaching someone. Think ahead and maybe come prepared with some resources if this is an issue.

  • Availability: Finding a therapist with open spots can be difficult, especially now more than ever before since the pandemic started. There are a lot of people struggling and not enough professionals to meet the demand. Again, come in with a plan and a list of options. You can always help brainstorm, reach out to different places, and explore alternatives.

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