THE BLOG
09/28/2015 08:26 am ET Updated Sep 28, 2016

When Your Family or Friends Need Therapy -- But Are Reluctant to Go

It takes an act of courage for most people to consider getting psychotherapy, especially when they see portrayals of it on television or in movies. Sometimes it seems mysterious and confusing. People often have concerns:
      How will therapy help me?
      Will I have to commit to a long course of expensive treatment?
      Should I take medication instead?
      Will my therapist judge me or try to control me?
      Will I have to talk about childhood issues?
      Will I have to expose my vulnerabilities?

Your family member or friend needing therapy may predict that therapy will lead to their feeling worse, not better. If so, it's no wonder you've been met with resistance when you bring it up. But here are some things you might ask them to consider:

  1. The effectiveness of some kinds of therapy have been measured in hundreds, if not thousands, of research studies. There are major differences between traditional psychotherapy, with little evidence of efficacy, and new psychotherapies that have been developed over the past fifty years. Traditional psychotherapy puts a heavy emphasis on childhood experiences and aims to help clients gain insight. Evidence-based treatments, on the other hand, deal with the problems clients have today and aim to help clients reduce their symptoms and stay better. Clients' mood and behavior are usually assessed at every session to make sure they are making progress.
  2. When people are considering treatment, they don't need to make a major commitment. They can try therapy for just a few sessions and then decide whether their therapist is a good match and whether the treatment makes sense. There is no big risk.
  3. If they think nothing can help, they should view therapy as an experiment. This prediction may be 100% right or 100% wrong or some place in between. It would be a shame if they decided not to try something that could really make a difference in their life.
  4. They should express their concerns to their therapist, who should invite their skepticism, not criticize them for it. Good therapists want to know about clients' doubts so they can figure out together whether the treatment is right for them.
  5. If finances are a problem, people can seek out low-cost options. Some agencies have sliding scales. It's helpful to view therapy as an investment in a better life.

Finally, you may be able to engage your family member in a discussion by asking, "What's the worst that could happen if you give therapy a try?" Offering to set up the appointment for them or going with them to the first session may make the difference between their getting help or not. And when they do go, praise them for their courage.

See Beck Institute's frequently asked questions about going to therapy here.