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How Do You Tell a Friend To Seek Counseling?

Counseling can help couples who often fight.
Counseling may be appropriate in certain situations.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 30 July 2014
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You may have a friend that seems really troubled. While you can listen and be sympathetic, you may find yourself not up to the task of really helping. When you see a pal make the same mistakes over and over again, or entangle themselves in harmful relationships, or when you witness a friend clearly displaying signs of mental illness, it may be time to advise them to seek counseling. Telling a friend to seek counseling can be extremely challenging. You can risk your friendship, simply be ignored on this point, or really anger someone. There are some ways to help do this in the least offensive way possible, but even in the kindest ways, telling a good friend to seek counseling doesn’t necessarily translate to that friend taking your advice gracefully or gratefully.

Telling friends they need counseling should not be reflex statement in a conversation that is going nowhere. Don’t shout it at a friend who frustrates you by their constant bad choices or deep depression. This is no way to approach the matter, and will likely only result in an argument.

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Instead, carefully plan out a time to discuss the matter. It can help to first do some reading and research on your own so you have information, and possibly even articles or books that you can pass onto a friend. For example, say a friend has had a succession of abusive relationships. She always seems to choose people that will hurt her, possibly endangering her life and definitely endangering her self-esteem. Do some reading about why women choose partners who hurt them. You might even make some phone calls to local counselors or to support groups for such women. Ask their advice on how to advise your friend.

Once you’ve gathered information, pay close attention to how you phrase this advice. Begin by telling your friend how much you care for them, and state a bit about your concerns for them. Tell them that you don’t mind listening to their troubles but you feel you don’t advise them well enough because you’re just not an expert.

Suggest that your concern has led you to do a little research on the matter because you really wanted to help, and that you’ve found Book A, Counselor B, or Support Group C, that you think might really help them out even more than you can. Offer to read material through with them, go with them to a counselor or attend a group meeting with them. Stress that you have suggested they seek counseling or other help methods because of your deep concern for them.

You can get a variety of responses when you tell a friend to seek counseling. They might be grateful, but don’t expect it. They might be angry and accuse you of not wanting to listen to their problems anymore. They may look at you like you’re crazy for making such a suggestion. You have to decide whether a friend’s situation warrants these possible reactions. If a friend is in grave trouble, it can be well worth it to try with the suggestion even if it means annoying, isolating, or angering your friend.

If a friend acts annoyed, upset or angry at your suggestion to seek counseling, don’t abandon the friendship, unless it is having a negative effect on you. Don’t argue with them. Drop the subject, maybe leave them a book or article to read, and don’t return to the subject for a few weeks. In a few weeks, revisit the subject, ask them if they had time to read what you left them, and repeat your offer of support. They may be more willing to listen or they may instead quickly shut you down.

Ultimately, no person seeks help unless they’re willing. This is the uncontrollable aspect about suggesting to a friend that they seek counseling. You can open the door to methods of help but you can’t push them through it. If your friend remains adamant in not attending counseling, and their problems do not damage you or your relationships, remain a good and compassionate listener, since friendship truly can make a difference in people’s lives.

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Discuss this Article

cupcake15
Post 4

@Icecream17- I think that if you really care about the person you will risk your relationship with them and tell them that they need a counseling psychotherapist for their problem.

Ignoring the symptoms of the problem will actually make the person afflicted sicker and not be able to heal. This is why they need help and you should not worry about if they are mad at you are not because the focus is not on you it is on them and their healing.

For example, interventions can be difficult and the person with the problem will be angry at all of those present, but the intervention might be the only thing that will get this person to seek help which will positively affect the quality of their life.

icecream17
Post 3

@Sunshine31 -I know what show you are talking about and it is riveting. I have to say that you make a good point about watching television programming related to the issue that the person is experiencing because it also makes them realize that they are not alone in their suffering.

It also takes away a little of the mystery so that they could see what to expect from counseling. Some of these reality shows that display these problematic people are actually therapeutic to the viewer and might make the person seeking mental health and depression counseling for example, feel better and consider treatment.

I think that fear of the unknown plays a big part in whether to seek counseling or not.

sunshine31
Post 2

@Suntan12 -I agree and I have to say that sometimes it is easier to brace the subject with a friend or loved one if you are both watching a movie or television program regarding the same subject matter.

For example, there is a program on one of the cable channels that shows an inside look at people that are in a treatment center for eating disorders. You get to see the battles that these people have and realize that their problems stem from emotional problems that they had over the years that they chose to ignore.

For example, one patient was a bulimic for thirty years and was never accepted by her parents. She never felt that she was good enough so she treated herself with a lot of contempt and exercised for hours while vomiting her food.

When you see a graphic show like this, the person needing counseling will be able to relate more to the people on the show and might even open up dialogue to seek help. It is sort of like a shock type of therapy that makes them realize what could happen if they don't get help.

suntan12
Post 1

I think that the idea of seeking counseling is really a healthy one, but it is something that the person afflicted has to agree to do. Sometimes people are in denial of problems that they have because they do not want to face the pain directly so they use a coping mechanism in the meantime that makes their problems worse.

For example, you may have a person that is a compulsive overeater who seems to eat this way when they receive bad news or are under stress. This person is avoiding the pain of dealing with the stress or disappointment by eating.

They then develop health problems as a result of the eating and really need a psychotherapist in order to get help. Overweight people like this know what they need to eat in order to stay healthy but instead choose comfort food in order to soothe their pain.

If the right therapist can get this type of person to open up they will realize through cognitive behavioral therapy and role playing techniques how to deal with their challenging days rather than go to food for comfort.

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