It can be incredibly difficult and painful to watch someone you care about struggle with their mental health and not know how to help them. Most of us can say that we have, at one time or another, witnessed someone we love go through a time like this, whether that person is a coworker, friend, or family member. You may have tried to console, listen to, or offer advice to your loved one, and yet realize that your loved one is finding it more and more difficult to get through their daily tasks. At this point, you may realize that your loved one might benefit from more professional help.
Often, there is a hope that your loved one will seek out counselling on their own. However, there may be many reasons why your loved one may not find it that easy to go out and find a counsellor on their own. You may find that they are not receptive to the suggestion to find a counsellor. As someone who cares about them, what can you do?
Take the Time to Understand Their Hesitation
There may be several reasons why someone may be hesitant to seek out counselling, including but not limited to:
- Worries about finances and the ability to afford counselling
- Lack of time or transportation to access counselling
- Fear of being judged
- Anxiety about sharing their experiences with a therapist
- Personal beliefs about counselling
Understanding what may be leading to their hesitation can help guide how you support them going forward. Below are some of the ways you may choose to help your loved one going forward.
Help with the Search
If your loved one worries about being able to access counselling (due to money, transportation, or amount of free time), they may appreciate you offering some practical support in finding what counselling options are available to them. For example, what services are easily accessible by transit? What services are free or allow for payment on a sliding scale? What services are available online for those who do not have the time to drive to a counselling office? Sometimes the hardest part of beginning counselling is picking up the phone or opening the computer to begin the search for a therapist. Your loved one might appreciate the help in getting that process started so it doesn’t feel so overwhelming.
Help Normalize Counselling
Unfortunately, there is still stigma in our society about experiencing mental health challenges. The reality, however, is that 1 in 5 Canadians will experience mental illness at some point in their lifetime (Miller, 2013). Many people still hold the idea that there must be something “wrong” with someone who sees a counsellor. Your loved one might fear feeling judged by others around them if they start to see a counsellor. They may fear feeling like something is wrong with them.
If you have had a positive experience with counselling yourself, it may help to share that experience with your loved one. Simply talking about mental health challenges helps normalize the experience (Miller, 2013). Normalizing mental health struggles, as well as counselling, lets your loved one know that they are not the only person in the world who has needed some mental health support. As you continue to support them, it will help to use non-stigmatizing and empathetic language.
Offer to Go with Them
It may also be that your loved one is scared of going to see a therapist for the first time by themselves. If you are in a place to do so, it may help to offer to drive and accompany them to their first few appointments. Having someone they trust in the waiting room, ready to support and talk to them after their counselling session, can provide a sense of comfort and safety as they start their counselling journey.
Remind Them of Their Right to Choose
People may be hesitant to start counselling because they are scared to share certain experiences or feelings with their therapist. This may be due to not having vocalized those experiences before or perhaps due to a negative counselling experience in the past. It can help to remind your loved one that, if they begin to see a counsellor, that it is their choice about what to share with a counsellor and when they want to share it. It is also their choice to end counselling if the therapist is not a good fit for them. These reminders can help your loved one know that they are in the driver’s seat with their counselling experience and can always choose to stop if they do not feel comfortable in their sessions.
Don’t Force Them
Not everyone may believe in counselling. This may be due to their personal, family, spiritual, or cultural beliefs. If this is the case, it is important to respect your loved one’s decision to not pursue counselling. As someone who cares about them and still wants to support them, it can be helpful to ask what kind of support they would find most helpful. They also may believe in other forms of healing and support outside of therapy. Be available and willing to explore those options with them, as your loved one will be most receptive to help if it is their choice about how and from who to receive it.
Ask What They Need
There may be many other reasons why someone is hesitant to seek out counselling. If you are unsure where to start or how to support your loved one, ask them what they need. What would be helpful? What would be not helpful? They may not know where to start either, and that is okay. What will help is for them to know you will remain by their side and help them figure out where to start when they are ready.
Take Care of Yourself
Witnessing someone you care about struggling with their mental health can be difficult on you too. Remember to take care of your own mental health and recognize what is and what is not within your control. Offer the help that you are able to, and help your loved one seek out other forms of support when needed. Always remember that calling 911 or the national crisis hotline (1-800-SUICIDE) are 24/7 options available to you and your loved one when needed as well.
While counselling can be a wonderful form of support and healing for many people, it can also be scary and intimidating to seek out, especially for the first time. If someone you love is struggling and is in need of some professional help, counselling may be an option for them. While you are there for your loved one, continue to listen to and support them with care and empathy to let them know that they are not alone in their struggles.
Miller, Adam. (2013). Mental health awareness campaign exposes challenges in combatting stigma. Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), 185(6), E241–242. https://doi.org/10.1503/cmaj.109-4415