If you’ve had a positive experience with a particular mental health treatment, it can be tempting to want to nudge your loved ones along that same path, so that they can reap similar rewards. But how can you do it sensitively, and what happens if they aren’t interested?
When we see our nearest and dearest struggling emotionally or physically, it is in our nature to want to help. Such compassion and concern should be admired, but there are times when it can also be problematic.
You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink, as they say. Likewise, you can want to support your loved one, but they just might not be ready or open to the treatment that you so earnestly believe could help. And that’s tough. You care about your loved one so, of course, you want what’s best for them. It can be really difficult to understand and appreciate why they are not leaping at the chance to engage with a particular therapy or treatment that you believe might help.
So, how can you navigate this situation with sensitivity and support?
1. Provide them with (expectation-free) information
Providing a leaflet, website details, or positive feedback about your own therapy experiences can be a really great place to start. Done respectfully, and without ultimatums or expectations, this can open up further discussion about treatment options, which can be helpful for both parties – they gain useful information they may not have previously considered, and you may feel a little less helpless by being able to provide it.
2. Be mindful of any hidden messages
When suggesting that a loved one may benefit from having professional support, you may well be meaning to convey the sentiment, “I love you and I want what is best for you.” But there is always the possibility that they may perceive your persuasion for them to have therapy as an accusation along the lines of, “You need fixing.” They might react defensively, even when you have the warmest of intentions. It may sound obvious, but reassuring your loved one that you simply want to help them be the best they can be, and not to intrinsically ‘change’ them, can go a long way.
3. Consider what the ‘issue’ really is
Take a moment to step back and reflect on the apparent ‘problem’ that you feel needs addressing. Does your loved one even consider this an issue? Is this something that bothers you more than it bothers them? And, if so, might you benefit from working this through with a professional from your own point of view instead?
4. Listen to them
Often we can get so involved in our own narrative that we forget other people also have theirs. If a loved one is expressing reluctance to try a certain approach, hear them out! Try to understand (or to at least listen to) why they are not instantly as keen as you would like. Perhaps this might open up areas for further dialogue that you could talk through together (“I’m just a bit worried about trying something new,” for example). Or perhaps it might not (“It’s just not for me; back off”). Either way, that is their narrative and they are entitled to it.
5. Look after yourself
Just as your loved one has every right to decline your well-meaning invitations for them to consider a particular therapy, you too have every right to your own feelings about this. Feelings of helplessness and frustration are normal in such situations, and deserve space and recognition. Remember, you are a person in your own right, and you are not responsible for your loved one. Your own self-care is important. So whether it’s meditation, gardening, your own therapy, or simply screaming into a pillow, do what you need to do to look after your wellbeing. After all, we can’t look after others if we don’t look after ourselves first.
To connect or speak with a professional therapist, visit counselling-directory.org.uk