How to encourage a loved one to go to counselling?

There's a 3-Step process you can adapt to meet the needs of your specific situation when attempting to encourage a friend to go to therapy.

  1. Empathise with them and their experience. That means you have to first listen to understand their experience from their perspective, without attempting to offer advice, opinions, or solve the problems. Try to understand what it feels like for them to be experiencing such profound levels of depression and loss that they cannot function the way they used to. You can reflect back to them things they may say so they know you are hearing them, like "So you're feeling really lost and hopeless right now."  You can follow up reflective statements with supportive statements like "I think I might feel the same way in your situation" or "You have every right to feel that way."
  2. Gently introduce aspects of reality, but only after your friend/family member feels heard and understood by you. Gently let them know that you are concerned about how they are doing and how they appear to be stuck. Bring in details: they haven't been socialising in months, it's affecting their job, they aren't taking care of themselves. Explain that you've heard that a pop culture definition of insanity is "doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results." Let them know that in your experience, nothing ever changes unless you do something different, but that you understand how hard it must feel for them right now to do anything different. But even more important, let them know that depression is actually (thank goodness) something that can be treated successfully, and the sooner that they can get treatment, the better things will be, and the sooner their life can get back to a new normal that feels okay again.
  3. Be a "Good Neighbor." In the spirit of Mister Rogers, be a friend and a good neighbor, and don't hold back on expressions of kind concern, compassion, and caring. Tell them that you care about them. Tell them that they deserve to be free of this kind of suffering and that you believe that it is possible for them to feel better. Tell them that you want to help, and then tell them all the ways that you would be willing to help. Say "I can help you find a therapist. I can make the appointment with you. I can drive you there or I can go with you the first time." But also tell them that they don't have to do anything if they don't want to or if they aren't ready to, just that you are concerned and want them to feel better as soon as possible and you'll do whatever it takes to get things moving.

Feeling listened to and heard, being cared about, and being told there is reason to hope and support to make that first step toward getting better is the best way I know for someone to seriously consider going to therapy.