If there’s anything I have learned from more than 20 years of being a therapist, it’s that we all can benefit from therapy at different points in our lives.
As part of the human condition, we each may experience issues such as stress, anxiety, depression, grief, or relationship problems. Therapy can help us resolve these issues and move forward in our lives, both personally and professionally.
Many of us have somebody in our lives who we believe might benefit from therapy. This may be a sensitive issue to broach because we don’t want them to feel criticized by the suggestion that they might benefit from counseling. The following are seven tips for effectively recommending therapy to somebody:
1) Act swiftly, don’t delay
- Resist the temptation to minimize issues or just hope the problem will magically disappear.
- Don’t wait until there is a full-blown crisis to recommend therapy.
- Remember that saying something sooner may prevent a larger issue from arising (i.e. relationship break-up, job loss, etc.)
2) Normalize, don’t shame
- Express empathy for their feelings; recognizing that their feelings are a normal response to their nature and nurture.
- Consider saying something along the lines of, “It's completely understandable that you are overwhelmed with everything you have going on right now. You deserve real support.”
- Share your perspective that therapy is something healthy and proactive---a routine aspect of healthcare, like going to a dentist or physician. Encourage them to consider a therapist as a personal trainer or coach for the mind, or for relationship success.
- Disclose if you yourself or others you know (without violating any confidentiality, of course) have benefited from therapy. If you haven’t, express that you yourself would be open to the seeking counseling as needed.
3) Express care, not judgement
- Provide love and support, not criticism.
- Don’t diagnose--leave that up to the experts.
- Do say, “I love you” or “I care about you” or similar expressions of support. “You just don’t seem like yourself and I want you to feel good.”
4) Address concerns and provide reassurance
- Explain that therapy can shift your thinking so it's more positive, help you process feelings, know yourself on a deeper level, increase coping skills, improve self-esteem, stop self-sabotaging behaviors, end relational patterns that no longer serve you, facilitate healthy communication at home/work, and help you create healthy work/life balance.
- Let them know that therapy doesn’t have to be long-term. Solution-focused, short-term therapy can be very effective in resolving many issues.
- Understand that some people have a fear of being analyzed or judged but that a good therapist is one who is compassionate, supportive, and objective. Therapists are professionals who can provide insight and tools to help you move forward in your life, both personally and professionally.
5) Provide resources to find a therapist
- Some people aren’t sure which type of provider to select.
- Psychiatrists provide medication and sometimes therapy.
- Psychologists provide therapy and sometimes testing.
- Therapists (Licensed Clinical Social Workers, Licensed Clinical Professional Counselors and Licensed Marriage & Family Therapists) provide therapy.
- When in doubt, start with a therapist because they are generally less expensive and they can asses and refer out if medication or testing is needed.
- Psychology Today will help you find a therapist who meets your needs in terms of area of expertise, cost, and location. Yelp is also a good review site that will help you find a reputable practice.
- Community Mental Health Centers (CMHCs) are available in most urban areas and provide quality and affordable outpatient counseling services, often on a sliding fee based on income. Check your community directory for a CMHC near you.
- Many local hospitals offer counseling services in outpatient mental health centers.
- Employee Assistance Program (EAP) benefits are offered by 80% of companies and provide confidential, short-term counseling and referral services to employees and immediate family members. Suggest that the person you are referring check their insurance card or contact their Human Resources Department and ask about EAP benefits.
- Suggest that the person visit their insurance company's website or call the Member Services number on their card and ask for some names of therapists in their area.
- If applicable, recommend asking their school counselor or student counseling center about what services are available. Many schools and universities offer free or low-cost services.
6) Provide information about the cost
- Recognize that expense is often a concern and provide the following information:
- Many therapists offer a free consultation to determine fit. They might also help you determine if individual, couples, or family therapy would be most effective.
- They may have EAP benefits through their employer which may include 1-5 free sessions for assessment, brief treatment, and referral.
- Sliding fee services are available at CMHCs or in practices that have clinical interns or therapists-in-training.
- Due to the Mental Health Parity Law, insurance coverage for outpatient mental health coverage is the same as it is for major medical services.
- You may be able to save money by seeing an in-network therapist but out-of-network coverage may also be pretty good. Many practices will check your benefits for you and explain your out-of-pocket costs ahead of time.
- Flex spending or Health Savings Accounts are a great way to use pre-tax money to pay for your health expenses. This may be especially helpful if you have a high deductible.
7) Provide support and access support
- Offer to go with them to the first session. If you have significant concerns about the person you are trying to refer and they are resistant, consider enlisting the help of other friends or family.
- For serious concerns, consider facilitating an intervention or hiring an interventionist.
- In cases of emergency, dial 911 or bring the person of concern to the local emergency room for an evaluation.
- Assure them you will continue to be a source of support--therapy is not a replacement for your friendship.
- Let go of outcome. If the person does not follow through with therapy, know you have done your part. If their behaviors are harmful to you or your relationship with them, you may also need to reevaluate your boundaries with them or even if the relationship is one you wish to continue. You might consider seeking support through 12-step programs such as CODA or Al-Anon.
"If you light a path for someone else, it will also brighten your path." ~Buddha
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