How to Encourage Someone to Go to Therapy

Know someone who might need help? The Savvy Psychologist covers the nuts and bolts of how to encourage someone to seek therapy--and how to deal with what they might say to you in return.

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD
Episode #029
encouraging therapy

Question #5: What If It Doesn’t Work?

This is a big one. You could try every tip here and they might not work. Unfortunately, you aren’t the person who chooses whether your loved one seeks help or not—only they can do that.

Sometimes, folks just aren’t ready. People go to therapy because they want things to change. If your loved one isn’t ready to change, they’re not going to go. They may not be ready to give up the high of drugs, face whatever they fear, or admit they can’t fix this on their own.

So what then?  Sometimes, individuals need to hear it from multiple people over time. In a related example, it’s been said that it takes seven attempts, on average, to quit smoking. Similarly, it may take five, ten, or a hundred people to instill readiness for therapy. But even if your words go unheeded initially, you’ll be one person closer to reaching that magic number.

Bottom line: you can’t make someone go to therapy. Even if you succeed in getting them in the door, if they’re not ready, they’ll drop out--especially, and ironically, if the therapist is good and really touches their pain, instead of allowing them to ruminate, complain, or play the victim.

However, if you or your loved one is in danger, you can bring in the authorities. If they’re going to hurt themselves or someone else, call the police or call 911.  But don’t let your role end there. Go to the ER, too, or show up at the court date. Tell the story, complete with the low points. If you feel endangered, give evidence of what they did, like pull a knife, threaten you, etc. If you think they’re a danger to themselves, say why.

Finally, if your loved one isn’t ready, consider setting an example and going to therapy yourself. It’s hard to watch someone you love sink their own ship. A good therapist can offer you a life preserver.

Now for some bibliotherapy!  

A book entirely about getting someone to seek treatment is You Need Help!: A Step-by-Step Plan to Convince a Loved One to Get Counseling.  

A book to help those with serious mental illness like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder accept treatment is I Am Not Sick, I Don't Need Help: How to Help Someone with Mental Illness Accept Treatment.


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18 & Under: Parents’ Depression Linked to Problems in Children, The New York Times.

Children of Parents with Mental Illness,The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Photos of holding hands, woman in distress, couple in therapy, and sleepless man courtesy of Shutterstock.


About the Author

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD
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