How to Convince (Or Encourage) Someone To Go To Therapy?

Written by Nicole Laoutaris
Last updated on: Dec 19, 2023

If you think someone you know needs help with their mental health, it can be very frustrating. Feeling powerless, angry, sad, or discouraged with them or your relationship is understandable.

If they are going through something more urgent, being very direct with them would be a clear option—or call 911 or the Crisis Services Canada 24/7 hotline at 1-833-456-4566 if it’s an emergency.

Suggesting mental health help can be hard to navigate in more unexceptional circumstances, such as when you realize someone is behaving in a concerning way, or it’s difficult to interact with them, or their mood or temper is unduly negative. 

After all, how do you convince someone to go to therapy? Isn’t that a decision one makes for themselves?

There are plenty of reasons people don’t choose therapy on their own, including practical barriers to therapy like cost or time, social stigma around therapy, and resistance to talking about emotional issues. It can actually be very helpful to hear from a friend or loved one who supports the idea.

There are ways to approach the conversation in an encouraging way, with care and optimism. It’s about communicating without judgement and being supportive of their decision. 

In this article, we’ll cover key steps for how to convince someone to go to therapy:

  • Understanding the need for therapy
  • Communicating effectively
  • Approaching the topic tactfully
  • Providing resources 
  • Supporting their decision

Remember that the decision to seek therapy is ultimately a personal one, and it might take some time for someone to believe in the benefits of therapy themselves.

Understanding the Need for Therapy

Life is hard, and we all face daily challenges and ups and downs. So, how do you know if what you’re noticing is more serious and it won’t just pass?

Therapy is not only effective when someone is in distress, or once their challenges are persistent. Therapy can even be preventative. Working with therapists or counsellors can help build resilience and skills to address challenges as they come. 

When someone shows clear signs that they may be struggling with their mental health, it’s not too early or too quick to consider therapy. 

Signs to look out for could include:

  • Changes in their mood and behaviour 
  • Withdrawal from social activities
  • Heightened irritability
  • Exhaustion, or noticeable changes in their sleep patterns
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Expressing feeling stressed or unhappy
  • Complaints of aches and pains that won’t alleviate, like headaches, stomach issues or back pain
  • Cognitive challenges like concentration or focus problems or forgetfulness
  • Difficulty keeping to commitments or responsibilities
  • Substance use changes

These challenges do not necessarily indicate a mental health condition, disorder or illness. Don’t try to offer a diagnosis yourself.

Therapy can also help with positive challenges. Perhaps you notice a friend is reaching for new aspirations, or they’re challenging themselves in new ways and it’s adding stress or pressure in their lives. Aiming for a higher performance level requires mental strength and resilience, and they might be struggling in unseen ways with those pressures. Therapy can also support personal growth and development. 

Whether for help or for growth, therapy can offer:

  • A safe space to explore and manage emotions (a place to vent!)
  • Self-discovery, including help making decisions or uncovering goals
  • Help making changes in behaviour, thinking, or feelings
  • A way to gain new perspectives from someone who is more objective 
  • A chance to work with someone trained in human behaviour and emotion
  • New confidence in knowing challenges are manageable and you’re not in alone in your struggles
  • Helpful and healthy stress management and coping habits

If you’re trying to help someone through a challenging time (good or bad), suggesting therapy can be a great way to help. But, bringing up an idea for therapy can easily backfire if you don’t prepare for a constructive conversation ahead of time. 

By communicating effectively, choosing the right time to talk about it, and preparing yourself with useful information you can more effectively stay on track if the person is surprised or gets defensive.

Effective Communication Techniques

Therapy can be a highly sensitive topic. Your loved one might react negatively or defensively and become turned off from the idea altogether, especially if they’re resistant or hesitant already.

Convincing someone to go to therapy is actually about meeting them where they are, and maybe even being vulnerable yourself. That means letting them know what you’ve noticed and that you’re concerned, while being clear and non judgemental. Then, listening to them and expressing empathy when they respond.

Effective communication is critical for empathetic conversations. This is not a sales pitch, it’s a real conversation about your concerns and your own feelings.

Active listening will be important during this conversation. Active listening is about fully being present in a conversation. This includes giving verbal and non-verbal cues that you're hearing them, and avoiding giving your own solutions.

You may not fully comprehend what they’re going through, but it’s important to make a conscious effort to show them you’re trying to understand.

Ways to be an active listener include:

  • Using body language like leaning in or nodding to show you’re listening
  • Putting distractions away (your cell phone) and looking at them when they speak
  • Asking open-ended questions
  • Paraphrasing or repeating back what you heard
  • Asking for clarification if something is unclear or you’ve misunderstood
  • Expressing your interest in supporting them.

It’s important to avoid showing up to the conversation with a list of demands for them. Critiquing someone or asking them to flip a switch on their behaviour can be confusing and hurtful.

This is likely going to be a process. Opening a line of communication is a first step, which can help you both over the long term. 

Approaching the Topic Tactfully

Bringing up a difficult topic with someone can weigh on your mind. You might be thinking about it often and it can easily slip out in an unhelpful way.

Choosing the right moment to talk will help with effectively communicating.

You’ll want to pick a time you’re both present and calm, and when you have space to let the topic breathe. You may only get so far in the first conversation, and the last thing you’ll want is to have you or them avoid the conversation in the future. 

Avoid personal events like family gatherings, hurling the idea at them in the middle of an argument, or bringing it up when they’re in the middle of work or a deadline.

But also, don’t try to wait for the “perfect” moment. You might want to avoid upsetting them if they’re already sad, or if they’re finally having a good day, but that can be a distraction and excuse. 

That’s why framing the conversation is so important. 

Framing the conversation is about creating the context for the discussion. It’s about making it feel safe, positive, and constructive, even if it’s an area of concern. 

Ways to frame a conversation include:

  • Creating the time and place for the conversation, i.e. inviting them on a walk, or to sit with you for tea or coffee. 
  • Setting a positive tone. Yes, you might be concerned or upset, but this conversation doesn’t have to be negative. Try to be curious about their feelings; avoid blame or judgement. 
  • Being clear about your purpose. i.e. you want to keep your relationship strong, and you want to communicate openly with them.
  • Avoiding assumptions about how they’re feeling. Invite them to share their perspective on what you’ve noticed, and consider it. Encourage them about the possibility of change.
  • Using humour, appropriately. Laughing can be like a release valve. It can create a sense of camaraderie and help break down barriers to difficult situations. 
  • Reinforcing what they’re going through is difficult, and that it makes sense they might need some support. 

You’re trying to establish some common ground during an early conversation, and trying to lay the foundation for next steps.

Addressing Concerns and Misconceptions

There are some very real barriers to therapy, including access and cost. Then, there are the myths and misconceptions. Someone may even be very supportive of therapy for other people, but they still have a hard time seeing the same benefits for themselves.

Here are some common therapy myths and how to debunk them:

  1. It’s too expensive.

Therapy can be expensive. In Canada, mental health therapy is like massage therapy—it’s generally paid for out-of-pocket or through private insurance. 

Still, there are cost effective options. Offer to help them review their benefits guide (if they’re employed) to look for mental health workplace coverage, or for an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) which can include free mental health support. Many therapists offer sliding scale therapy for those unable to pay full session prices, and there are government subsidized mental health resources available across the country (note they differ by province or territory). 

For those who can afford it, it can still be difficult to prioritize the cost. Ultimately, you can determine the frequency, or try choosing a designation that is less costly per session (e.g. a psychotherapist vs. psychologist). Actively looking for space in the budget will help it feel possible.

  1. Good friends work as well as therapy

Those closest to us are a great support system, but there comes a point when friends, coworkers, spouses, or family are no longer able or capable to help someone through their challenges. 

Reinforce you’re there for them and helping them consider talking with a therapist is supporting them. Remind them you’re speaking with them because you feel strain in your relationship already, and that therapy is a different kind of support which you are not able to give them. 

  1. My problem isn’t serious enough for therapy

People are very good at downplaying the severity of our issues, or believing we’ll fix them in time.

There is a root assumption here that therapy is a sign of weakness or failure.  

You can push back and remind them that therapy is a sign of self-awareness and strength. Why wouldn’t they want to feel better? It’s mature and resourceful to gather support for life’s challenges. 

  1. It’s going to be too painful

It’s important to be empathetic but point out that you notice there is already pain there. Avoiding help will only worsen it. They’re not avoiding it at all by not going to therapy.

Validate them by agreeing that therapy can involve deep emotional work, but they don’t have to go there especially right away. It can also be energizing and reinvigorating to gain a new perspective on what’s bothering us. 

Remind them that you’ll be there. If you’ve experienced progress from therapy, share how it’s been helpful and that it’s been a relief to get those issues off of your mind.

  1. Therapy takes years to work

While some may benefit from long term therapy, many issues can be addressed in a relatively short period of time. 

Ask them if they’d be open to a set number of sessions to try it out and see how they feel. This doesn’t have to be a lifelong commitment. 

It’s also important to reinforce that therapy is a highly confidential and private interaction. Licensed therapists are bound by legal and ethical practice requirements that ensure standards of care. 

Providing Resources and Options

Supporting someone does not stop at convincing them to go to therapy; it may involve some logistical support.

It’s not easy to learn how to find a therapist. You can help by sharing information and resources.

First Session has a useful Therapy 101 guide to mental health which helps answer many common questions, from different types of therapists and therapy specializations to costs and coverage and  therapy techniques.

Finally, it’s important to help them understand how to work with a therapist who is educated, trained, licensed and/or registered to practice ethically and professionally where they live. 

This is not easy to navigate. That’s why First Session was created—to empower Canadians to take agency over their mental health by removing the friction in finding the right therapist. 

You can filter for mental health professionals by location, their specialization or the type of therapy they offer, and more. Therapists are professionally and thoroughly vetted for their qualifications and licensing, and you can use several search filters based on your needs.

Supporting Their Decision

This is not a one-and-done conversation. Even if they take action to start working with a therapist right away, that’s only the beginning—it may be challenging for your relationship for a little while thereafter.

Along the way, it’s important to check in and to continue to communicate how you feel. It’s always important to respect their choices and decision-making. 

If they decide not to get help, it can be frustrating and disappointing. It’s important that you continue to respect your own boundaries and accept the consequences of their choices. 

It’s important that you seek your own help and support through this challenging time, especially if a close relationship has broken down in the process.

That said, they’ll likely be receptive to your support if it’s offered in a thoughtful way. Be patient. Give them time to process your conversions and make their own decision. 

You may need to be persistent, but remember it must be from a place of support not force. Follow up, and check in on how they’re doing. Continue to offer your support, time or information to help them along the way.

Remind them that it may take time to find the right therapist fit, but that you’ll continue to be there through the process. 

Finally, celebrate the wins! After a first appointment is made, tell them you’re proud of them and you’re there if they want to talk about their experience after. 

Take them for another coffee or another walk, and let them know the positive impact their work in therapy is having on your relationship. It’ll be an important milestone moment for you both.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How can I support someone who is reluctant to try therapy?

Ultimately, the choice to go to therapy is theirs to make. You can show support by communicating with them in a way that is constructive, judgement-free, and focused on both of your perspectives. They may be unaware of the impact they’re having, and unsure how to change. That can be scary. 

Let them know they’re not alone, and that their challenges are worth addressing. Be positive and optimistic, and ask questions more than make requests. Listen to their answers and meet them where they are.

Q: What are some benefits of therapy that I can share with someone?

If someone is unsure, resistant or reluctant to try therapy, try to understand where their concerns and fears are coming from and be open and honest with them. 

Provide reassurance and information to help address their specific concerns. 

Some benefits you can share include:

  • Emotional support: therapy provides an outlet to share and vent with someone who is trained and educated to listen. They’ll empathize and likely have experience working with others who have experienced similar challenges. This awareness can be incredibly rewarding.
  • Coping skills: Life is hard! Therapists and counsellors are trained to provide tools and resources to help cope with everyday challenges. These can be cognitive exercises to change your behaviour or emotional response to situations that are stressful, breathing or body exercises to decrease stress, skills and tools like time management tactics, or communication techniques that help with tough conversations.
  • Self awareness and growth: Therapy can be about self-reflection, understanding oneself, creating goals, and recognizing your self worth. This can be about more than healing and happiness, it can be about empowerment for building a fulfilling life.

Q: How can I address someone's concerns about therapy?

First, it’s important to practice active listening and reserve judgement. Often, people are reacting based on myths and misconceptions about therapy. Share your own stories and experiences, address their concerns honestly and offer to help where you can (e.g. finding cost-effective options or navigating their work benefits).

Q: What are some ways to make therapy more appealing to someone?

Convincing someone to go to therapy is not a debate to win. Making therapy more appealing will involve normalizing it with them by having a calm and positive conversation.

Explain your point-of-view and express your feelings to show them you’re on their side. It’s a team effort, your relationship requires both of you to be involved.

If the situation is very severe, you may need to remove yourself from the relationship, which still respects their choices as well as your boundaries.

Q: What are some common misconceptions about therapy that I can dispel?

Common myths and misconceptions about therapy have much to do with social stigma and assumptions about what therapy is and is not

They may think:

  • They can rely on family and friend for support
  • Their issues are not severe enough for therapy
  • Therapy is only for people who are mentally ill or in a crisis
  • It will be too painful
  • It’s going to take too much time

It’s important to hear their concerns and provide correct information by asking open ended questions, fact checking them by letting them know you’re not able to provide the support they need. Remind them therapy can be about growth and positive change as much as it can be about pain and recovery. 

Q: How can I help someone find a therapist that meets their needs?

Sitting with someone and doing research together can be incredibly supportive. They’ll see it’s not something that is scary or secret, and that there are dozens of options to help them through what they need.

Need some help with your search? Look for a therapist on First Session. You can easily filter by location, specialization, or therapy type, and watch intro videos to get to know the therapist before you reach out.

Ready to talk?

Use First Session to find the best therapist for you.

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About the Author

Nicole Laoutaris

Nicole Laoutaris is a freelance writer and adult learning professional based in the Greater Toronto Area. She specializes in educational content for brands and companies in industries such as mental health, pet health, lifestyle and wellness, cannabis, and personal finance. Nicole holds a double undergraduate degree in Communications and Film studies from Wilfrid Laurier University, and post-graduate certificate in Corporate Communications from Seneca College. She currently lives in Hamilton Ontario with her spouse and her cat.

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