How to Support a Loved-One in Need of Therapy

Support a loved one by learning how to get them help

Is Your Nagging Really Support or Keeping a Loved-One From Treatment? 

Ever wonder why support often goes south when we are trying to help someone with what seems so obvious?  Why do our loved-ones keep persisting with self-defeating behavior and ignore our rational and soul bearing arguments?  There are a number of reasons why our good reasoning and best intentions just aren’t terribly helpful at times.  Sometimes we are so caught up in our roles as helpers that cannot see the dynamics of the conversations we are having and non-verbal cues.  This is a common occurrence in many of us who identify as codependent.  We might feel like angels, but our kindness lands like a kick from the devil.  Then we get resentful.  If our messages are not hitting home or worse, countering our objectives, we need to stand back and take perspective to learn more effective strategies.  Here are some questions you might ask yourself:

  • What is my body behavior and what underlying messages might I be sending? For example, is my tone calm and considerate? Am I waving my arms sending cues of exasperation?
  • What underlying core beliefs am I holding that might be at play?

Keeping personal space in conversations for support

Our Body Cues, Energy and Emotions Convey the Message of Support

In our interactions with others, particularly those that are heated, it helps to recall that there are dynamics at play beyond our words and gestures.  Underneath our humanity and elevated cerebral cortex, we are essentially primates with a reptilian brain.

This primitive part of us is communicating nervous system to nervous system.  In other words, your cues, energy and emotions hit your partner’s nervous system, are processed against their vast experiences (and trauma) and their resulting energy and emotions bounce back onto you.  This is the flow that underlies words.  More often than not, it’s not about the words.  No one is even paying real attention to the words.  The content barely matters.  The words and resulting gestures are just the screen onto which everything that is hidden, or subconscious is projected.  Your stress responses are at play.

Survival Mode Doesn’t Feel Supportive
And let’s not forget the defense mechanisms that are often a part of the hidden underworld of experiences and interpretations.  They often kick in as protection.  If the reptilian brain feels under attack, survival mode kicks in and an all systems alarm goes off to initiate resistance to the perceived attack.  Remember, there’s no emergency room or second chances in the world of survival.  Take out the enemy right now or risk oblivion.  Reason will always take a back seat.  Your amygdala will make sure of that when it releases adrenaline and cortisol to lead the charge.  This is why what makes perfect sense to you and even a hundred other well-wishers is but a cacophony of poorly tuned trumpets and your intelligent loved one who was in the top 1% of their graduating class is resisting your efforts. 


Booking Appointments on Behalf of Loved-Ones
Scheduling the therapy appointment on behalf of your loved one might seem like a better alternative to nagging, and it probably is, but this rarely works to actually land your friend, son, daughter, father or spouse in treatment.  In the unlikely event that a loved-one shows for the appointment, it’s usually to get the family member or friend off their back and the gesture usually fizzles by the second or third session.  More likely than not, the loved-one never shows.  Besides, most practitioners require a prospective client to book their session directly to preserve confidentiality in the client-therapist relationship.  (They  require direct booking because they know that most second party bookings fail to have follow through. Also, they are aware of scams where third parties suggest some elaborate payment method pretending to be family relatives and then end up siphoning off payments.  But that’s another feature).  

Support a family member by booking an appointment

Strategies That Help Support Your Loved-One to Seek Help

All is Not Lost
The more you try, the more likely it is that your loved ones will resist your efforts.  So, what to do?   Does that mean that there’s nothing you can do if you have a loved one flailing in the grips of depression, trauma or addiction?   Actually, there are some proven ways that can help.  Learn to shift the heavy lifting to your loved one and celebrate the relief of not having to be responsible.  How so? The same way psychotherapists and other trained mental health professionals are able to attain successful outcomes treating mandated clients who do not enter treatment of their own volition.  Trained mental health providers know the following:

Other people have to come up with their own reasons for change. You can’t force them to have yours.  If that still feels right, explore how effective this method has been for you.

“To support a loved-one and increase the likelihood of their entering treatment, you need to discover their reasons for changing and facilitate their articulation of those reasons.”

Helping a loved-one through listening

Ways to Support Your Loved-One
There are no guarantees of course, but you needn’t feel helpless.  Even trained professionals don’t get immediate results.  Here are some things to keep in mind to increase the likelihood of increasing the motivation of a loved one to make better choices:

  • Ask, don’t demand.
  • Set boundaries: Staying within your own limits can keep you from facilitating unhealthy behavior. 
  • Model the behavior you want to encourage: It’s easier to lean into the examples that are set by others.  Action counts louder than words. Are you seeking help?
  • Seek support: Sometimes caring for a loved-one can be draining. If you find you have codependent traits, consider a support group, therapist or coach to help you identify enabling behaviors that drain your energy and hinder you from getting your needs met.
  • Stop nagging and pointing out reasons to change: This can deprive loved ones of their autonomy and foster resistance. You can learn how to reinforce autonomy by the way in which you frame your statements.  Sometimes the way we phrase things, only makes them seem harder. Who wants to do something that’s hard when they already feel down and depleted? Consider the difference between the following:
    • “Why don’t you want to seek treatment?” vs. “I believe this is up to you” or “I know you’re not happy. I get why.  Would you be willing to hear me anyway?” or even “How might you benefit?”
  • Seek guidance from a professional regarding your communication style. Some people come to persuasion naturally while others need some training or assistance especially if they have underlying trauma. 
  • Do the research: None of this was to dissuade a friend or family member from doing the leg work regarding treatment. If someone is struggling with addiction, depression or anxiety, they are likely lacking energy or clarity to do good research.  Setting an appointment is often putting the cart ahead of a horse.  Staying informed can help you be an excellent support and reserve your energy for what is most effective when your loved one is ready to hear.  It might also help you understand your loved one’s condition and limitations.  Sometimes we set unreasonable expectations and make assumptions about loved-ones because we simply don’t understand their symptoms.  Some common signs that a loved one might need mental health support include:
    • Changes in hygiene: E.g. Cleanliness and clutter.
    • Negative self-talk.
    • Increased isolation and loss of interest in hobbies, friends.
    • Increased substance use.
    • Sleep changes: sleeping too much or too little.
    • Appetite changes: Eating a lot more than usual or a lot less.
    • Sudden weight gain or loss.
    • Loss of focus or concentration. Includes disorientation.
    • Stealing/lying.
    • Secretive behavior.
    • Sudden and unexplained changes in routine.
    • Undependability especially if accompanied by defensiveness, deflection or excuses.

Supporting a loved one seek mental health treatment by listening

Having a Loved One Join Your Therapy as a Support
While protecting your own needs that include your right to privacy and by sharing general information that you have learned about trauma, attachment and therapy you might pique a loved-one’s  interest in therapy and demystify the experience.   You might also provide them with a link to this Urim Recovery Journal where they can peruse common issues related to good mental health.  They might even read this entry.  You might also consider your loved one joining your therapy session as your support.

Below are some links to information to help your loved one prepare for joining your therapy session:

You can find other soundbites related to preparation for therapy here .  Stay in tune with issues related to your well-being and mental health right here in the Urim Recovery Journal updated 2x a week.

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