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  • Writer's pictureKayla Lane Freeman

"How Do I Make Them Go to Therapy??"

Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to wait for out loved one to ask for help.

The most important piece of advice I can give is this: Go to therapy yourself. This question-asker already confirmed they’re in therapy, but not everyone who relates to this question may be.

Talking to a therapist of your own will allow you to explore your own grief, frustration, ambivalence, fear or resentment about this person not seeking mental healthcare. It’s also a good opportunity to explore codependency.

“Codependent” is a term that gets thrown around a lot, especially to describe romantic relationships when two people spend all of their time together and can’t seem to have an independent identity. And although some of these enmeshed relationship may indeed be codependent, in the context of professional mental health, the definition differs.

A person struggling with codependency is one who consistently puts the perceived or real needs of another person above their own, even at the detriment of their own well-being. Often this dynamic of “over caring” is actively harmful to the recipient of the “care” as it can enable unhealthy behaviors or diminish the person’s ability and willingness to care for themselves.

But I’m trying to convince him because I believe it might help. If you had a relative that was addicted to drugs, would you not want to help them?

Codependency commonly occurs in relationships with people who are struggling with chronic physical or mental health issues, including, like the writer draws the comparison, people struggling with substance use disorders.

Let’s consider self-determination theory; research shows that someone who comes to therapy because they want therapy is far more likely to benefit from treatment than the person who is mandated for treatment.

Often mandated treatment looks like people who are involved in the legal system who are required to attend therapy or rehab to keep their employment, children, or as terms of their parole. Other times, mandated treatment could be someone attending rehab or therapy because of a family member’s ultimatum.

That’s because therapy is not like a broken leg; your participation is necessary for the healing. As a therapist, I can’t say or do something to change the way your brain is wired if you aren’t willing to entertain the idea that what I share may be true and helpful.

Basically, you can tell a horse about all of the amazing mental health benefits of therapy, but you can’t make it drink the emotional labor of neurological reprogramming, personal growth, and addressing harmful habits.

Even medication, like SSRIs and other anti-depressants, do not have as great of an impact if the person who is taking them resents taking them or does not have faith that they will work.

So what is to be done, then, about the loved one who is struggling but will not go to therapy?

Question-asker, although your brother has a pretty clear boundary around not wanting to talk to a stranger, he didn’t say that he doesn’t want to talk at all. You asked for magic words, and I wonder if perhaps they are the most obvious ones: “I’m here for you.”

You certainly don’t need to become your brother’s therapist, but it may be beneficial to engage him in a conversation about his mental health … without centering your feelings.

Approach the conversation from a place of curiosity, rather than a place of fear, anxiety or a desire to change his mind. Ask your brother what his experience has been like and how you can support his well-being. Although it will be challenging, see if you can tolerate your own discomfort about your brother’s mental health and offer him your unconditional acceptance.

Demonstrating that you accept him exactly as he is — depressed, anxious, resistant to therapy — can go a long way towards planting a seed for his recovery. Your care can help to restore a sense of worthiness that he may have lost in the face of his mental health struggles.

Reconnecting with the people who love him most may help him develop the motivation to take a more active role in attending to his well-being, whether through therapy, medication, spiritual work, exercise or another path towards improved mental health.

Research demonstrates that the central reason why talk therapy is an effective treatment for a range of mental health concerns is due to the relationship we develop with our provider. It is inherent to being human that we need the care, curiosity and focused attention of others to better understand ourselves, process emotions and thrive.

You may not have the skills, tools and scientific research of a trained therapist, but you know how to love your brother. Do that to the best of your ability, while prioritizing your own mental health, and you will do more for him than forcing him into therapy. In time he may decide to go therapy, or he may not, but either way I can guarantee he’ll feel better knowing that you’re there for him instead of just waiting for him to pick himself up by his proverbial mental health bootstraps.

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