How do you refer a friend for therapy


44. FriendHugIt’s a tricky situation this one. When you notice a friend or family member could do with help or support beyond what you’re equipped to give, how do you suggest to them ‘I think you should see a therapist?’ without hearing expletives come back at you?


There are lots of reasons why we can spot things about our friends that they can’t see for themselves. You might see:


  • A recurring pattern: dating the same type of controlling guy for example. They’re too caught up in the details of ‘but this guy’s different’ to notice that they’re repeating a life lesson
  • An addiction: could be to alcohol, drugs, sex or a personality type – whatever it is it takes a very aware person to acknoweledge that they’re living with a dependence on something (or someone)
  • A sadness: most people get sad sometimes – it’s part of the spectrum of emotions we’re privileged enough to encounter. The frequency and the depth to which we feel sad can differ greatly and when you’re in it it’s possible to say ‘doesn’t everyone feel down sometimes’ without recognising that you’ve been like that for 6 weeks now – your mind needs help to get back its resilience and bounce-back
  • A destruction: self harming and eating disorders can often be hidden from those at work or others in a house hold. Over time though it’s often the case that family or friends will notice a routine forming or a regular oddity (why does she always go to the toilet after dinner; or why does he always wear long sleeves even on a hot  summer’s day). Often just asking the question is enough for the person to share some extra details – but reason on its own (even with the best of intentions) is rarely enough to transform the behaviour
  • A debilitation: with panic attacks or with anxiety or stress, it can be the case that your friend will begin to retreat from socialising (with valid enough sounding excuses), will have increased sick days, will step down from opportunities they may previously have been front of the queue for.


To be helpful in all the above situations you would first have to be able to:

  • spot the harmful changes (being drunk as a one off is different than drinking to excess 4nights a week)
  • know how to confront the topic (to come alongside the person we care about and not judge them or offer simplistic solutions)
  • know the limitations of what can be dealt with as a friend and what should be passed to a professional (plus also, could you recommend a great therapist? – Like a personal trainer there are ones who can talk the talk, and those who can get authentic results fast).

So here are 5 ways you could approach a conversation with a friend or family member so they might hear that you care enough to suggest they see a good therapist:

  1. Ask some questions: you can’t show you genuinely care unless you’ve proved your willing to listen. ‘So what’s been going on’; ‘how have you been feeling’; ‘what are you thinking is going to turn this round’; ‘what have you tried’; ‘what are the consequences if you keep going like this’
  2. Plant a seed: do your research well and tell your friend (child, sibling, parent) that you’ve heard of someone (or some therapy type – like for us it’s Human Givens therapy) who gets extraordinary results fast. ‘I can email you the website or the number if you want to check it out’.
  3. Tell a ‘dear John’ story: like if you’d heard that ‘this friend of mine’s daughter’ had an amazing turn around from her addiction after she spoke to this great therapist.
  4. Don’t judge: a friend doesn’t want to hear a judgement about the tough point they’re going through right now. It might seem simple to you from the outside. It’s not simple for them, so if you’re going to say a ‘should’ or an ‘ought’  – stay silent and count to 10!
  5. Care & invest: if you need to go with them on session one, do it. If they need a bit more support getting into a new routine, be there. Encourage, cheer and love. They’d do the same for you.


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