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.
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.