Ask LH: How Can I Persuade Someone To Seek Professional Help?

Ask LH: How Can I Persuade Someone To Seek Professional Help?

Dear Lifehacker, I have a friend who who seems to have some issues that would benefit from seeing a mental health professional. How can I tell him this without being a jerk? Sincerely, Worried Wendy

Dear WW,

That’s a tough spot to be in, and your next move is important. You certainly can’t force your friend to do anything, but you can open up a helpful dialogue. To really dig into this question, we talked with Roger S. Gil, mental health professional trained in marriage and family therapy. Here’s the best way to approach that conversation.

Ask Yourself If You Should Even Try To Convince Them

Ask LH: How Can I Persuade Someone To Seek Professional Help?

Firstly, make sure you’re ready to intervene. Nobody likes being told what to do, but that’s especially the case if you’re not already really good friends. Likewise, they won’t be receptive to you if you don’t have a strong relationship with them. Gil points out that the closeness of your relationship is what matters most here:

It all depends on your relationship to the person. While we may be concerned about a coworker (for example), urging them to see someone won’t help if we don’t have a close enough relationship to them. Before asking someone to seek help, check how close you are to them first.

It sounds like common sense, but it’s still a good reminder. Make sure you have the type of relationship with a person where you can actually have this conversation before you go in headfirst and suggest what they do with their life.

Make Your Case

Ask LH: How Can I Persuade Someone To Seek Professional Help?

Once you decide to go ahead and try to persuade your friend to get help, it’s time to come up with a plan for that conversation. Gil has a few guidelines for how to handle that conversation:

  • Try to use your relationship as leverage: Often times it’s easier to hear “seek professional help” from someone you know well than from a simple acquaintance. For example, you can assure them of how important the relationship is to you and follow it up with comments about how concerned their maladaptive behaviours make you for their wellbeing. A word of caution, be wary of using your relationship as leverage when giving them an ultimatum. You may find yourself in a precarious situation if you do.
  • Identify the problematic behaviours in specific terms: Don’t say, “you always argue with people.” Say something like “when I heard about the arguments you had at work, it made me feel that this might be something you want to look into because you’ve said similar things to me about other relationships last week.” The point is to be specific and nonjudgmental.
  • Identify how the specific behaviours are affecting the person and those around them: Being able to identify how a person’s specific problematic behaviour is adversely affecting others lets the person know that the issue is bigger than them.
  • Identify strong points and positive qualities: It’s usually easier to start conversations about getting someone to seek help by pointing out what you like and admire about them.

It’s also important to make sure you’re level headed before you get into this conversation. Stay calm and offer your advice without coming off like a know-it-all. It’s a pretty thin line between being a cocky jerk and a helpful friend, so make sure you’re careful as you toe that line.

Offer To Help

Ask LH: How Can I Persuade Someone To Seek Professional Help?

You can persuade all you want, but if you’re not willing to actually help beyond talking, it’s a largely pointless exercise. Gil suggests you throw yourself out there and offer to go along with them to the first appointment:

If you’re close enough to the person, offer to sit in the waiting room during their first session or two. It’s also a good idea to mention that you won’t ask specifics about the session, just superficial things ( like “Did you like it?”, “Are you comfortable with this process?”, etc.).

Remember though, you’re just offering to help, don’t force yourself into the situation if they don’t want you there.

Prepare For Rejection

Ask LH: How Can I Persuade Someone To Seek Professional Help?

If you’re going to have this conversation with someone, prepare for it to possibly go off the rails. Regardless of how you approach the conversation or how good your relationship with the other person is, there’s a reasonable chance it’s going to go poorly. Gil suggests you prepare yourself for that:

Be prepared to get rejected or have the person mad at you. People have the right to make bad choices and to be offended even when you come at them with the best of intentions.

Rejection is a risk you’ll have to be willing to take, but if you prepare yourself to deal with getting yelled at and focus on the consequences, you should be able to make it through the conversation. Good luck.


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Photos by Tristan Bowersox, Sarina Brady, Alan Turkus


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