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How to help someone you think may need therapy

by Sarah Graham
Monday 20 April 2015
1209 33816

One in four of us will be affected by some kind of mental health problem each year, so you're not alone if you're worried about the mental health and wellbeing of a friend or relative. It can be difficult to know what to do or say to help someone in distress, particularly someone you're close to, but the fact that you've sought out this article for advice is a great first step.

While you can't refer someone else to therapy or force them to seek help, there are other ways you can help someone who you think may benefit from psychological support. We asked two RSCPP therapists, Roslyn Byfield and Katrina Taee, for their advice on how best to approach your friend or relative with your concerns.

Opening up the conversation

Firstly, and most simply, Accredited Counsellor Katrina Taee says: "The only way to find out how someone is feeling is to ask them. Opening up the topic of conversation can be so scary - perhaps you worry about their reaction - but reaching across that silent gap can be one of the most important things you will ever do."

Opening up the conversation can be scary, but reaching across that silent gap can be one of the most important things you will ever do.

Likewise, Accredited Counsellor Roslyn Byfield adds: "If you're worried about someone's mental health, it's important to let them know in confidence that you're there to talk about it if they feel able, besides talking about other things as well, so their problems don't become the only thing you talk about."

If you're unsure how to broach the subject initially, Katrina recommends finding an easy, relatable way in: "A good way to open a conversation might be to share a problem you have had, such as 'when I was bullied at work I felt...', and then widen out the conversation to ask them how they feel," she says.

"Perhaps tell them what you have noticed of late, like 'you're not coming out any more'. Sometimes people just don't realise how much their life has changed."


What not to say

It's important to accept that they may not necessarily want to open up straight away, but they'll undoubtedly appreciate knowing that you're available to listen when they're ready. If they do start opening up, try and listen to how they're feeling, and be mindful that they may find opening up extremely difficult.

They need time and space to explore and understand their feelings.

Try to keep your responses as sensitive and understanding as possible. As Roslyn says, "Unfortunately it's very common for people experiencing mental health difficulties to be told to 'Snap out of it', 'Move on', 'Put it behind you', and so on, but this is not helpful. They need time and space to explore and understand their feelings before it's possible to move forwards, so it's helpful if you avoid such reactions, which can often be indicative of your own discomfort."


Helping them move forward

Instead, try and offer support in more practical ways, by pointing them in the direction of resources or services they may find useful. "Offering hope that things can be different, that there is help out there, and that you and others want to support them, may be all they need to take that all important step towards help," says Katrina.

"A GP appointment, seeing a therapist, finding a group, encouraging more friends to support them, engaging family help, or getting out in nature more, are just a few positive suggestions you could think about," she adds. "Isolation is so corrosive; try to prevent that and you are helping right there."

It's important to seek help early on, and there is no shame in this.

Above all, Roslyn says, "it's important to encourage them to seek help early on, and remind them that there is no shame in this", whether that help comes in the form of their GP, a therapist, or someone else. If they're interested in seeking therapy, you could suggest the RSCPP directory as a tool to find the best qualified therapists in their area, with experience in whichever issue is affecting them, or simply as a resource to find out more about the different types of therapy available and our past clients' experiences.

Alternatively, if they're unsure about speaking to a health professional, helping them gather more information can be a good way to help them decide on an appropriate next step. You can search the archive of articles and resources on for information and advice relevant to their particular situation, or check out the websites of mental health organisations such as Mind and The Mental Health Foundation.

Finding support

If you are concerned about the issues raised in this article then you may like to read about finding the right therapist for you. If this route is not appropriate for you, your GP can assess you and direct you towards support.

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Updated 20 April 2015