Wednesday, April 24, 2013

How to Approach A Loved One about Seeking a Therapist

Something I’m asked a lot is: How do I let someone know theymight be Borderline? And the answer to that is you absolutely do NOT do that. Ever. Just don’t. It’s not your place. However. The thing that you can do is encourage them to seek therapy. Which is the next most frequent thing I’m asked. How can I encourage my loved one to seek therapy.

The answer to that is: Very, very gently. And from a place of caring.

1.      First it’s important to do a little of your own soul searching and understand your own motivations. Do you want this for the other person or for yourself? Wanting someone to see a therapist can be loaded with your own ideas of what is normal and appropriate behavior. Make sure you’re certain that you’re not just trying to impose your own ideas of normality onto someone else.

If it is in fact a situation that is of appropriate seriousness where you don’t feel you have the required skills and emotional strengths to handle it on your own and need to seek professional intervention the first thing you need to do is:

·         Let your Loved One know that you need to have an important conversation with them. This helps to focus their attention and implies they should take it seriously.

·         Pic a good time and place. Avoid talking during family gatherings or when you’re fighting.

·         Approach with empathy. You might say something like “I know this is really hard for you, but I’m talking to you because I love you. If I didn’t care, we wouldn’t be having this talk.”

·         Be prepared for the person to be upset – and try not to get defensive.

·         Use “I” statements, such as “I’m concerned about you.”

2.      Talk openly but gently with the person.  Have an attitude of compassion rather than blaming. Do not choose a heated moment or argument with a friend or partner to tell them they need counseling. Let them know that you see them struggling or having difficulty. Let them know that you’ve noticed that they seem to be going through something. You care about them and you only want them to feel better, not to continue struggling and remaining in pain so it might be beneficial for them to talk to someone that is professional trained to help with these kinds of issues.

3.      Stress that this is not a replacement for the support of friends and family. You will still be there. Your love and support will still be there. You will still be there. You just aren’t equipped with all the skills that you think could help. All professionally trained help is, is an additional, neutral source of help who is bound by confidentiality not to reveal anything about what is discussed between them. Sometimes it’s really nice to have a neutral 3rd party to talk to. It provides a sense of safety, as well as an outlet for talking and working through issues. Plus they have more resources and skills at their disposal.

4.      Be patient. Especially when it comes to someone with BPD. We don’t always react well to the suggestion of seeing a therapist. Many people react very badly in fact so be prepared for this. Often people take the implication of needing to see a therapist as a sign of weakness. At worst people take the suggestion as a betrayal that they aren’t able to cope with their life. Which may be true, but they clearly aren’t able to deal with the suggestion. Be patient and remain calm. It’s important to convey that everyone at times needs help. Therapists are there for those times. It absolutely does not make you any less capable as a human being. All it means is that you are in fact, a human being, and that sometimes you need a hand. It’s okay.

5.      Give the person time to think things over if they react poorly to the suggestion. Don’t push too much too quickly. That will only make them feel pressured and trapped and incapable. This will never get you the response you want. Use your best judgment to gauge when it might be appropriate to raise the matter again.

6.      Be supportive and encouraging. Indicating your willingness to be a part of a counseling effort. Don’t leave them to flounder on their own. Offer to help them find a good therapist and help them out. When someone is going through a difficult time even something simple like finding a therapist can seem overwhelming. Help them out! Be prepared! If you’re suggesting they go into therapy then you’ve committed yourself into this process of helping them.

7.      Educate yourself. Know something about therapy. This goes along with the be supportive part. It helps to do a little bit of research. If you’re helping your Borderline find a therapist. Look into Dialectical Behavior Therapy. See if there are any programs in your area. We have specific types of therapy designed just for us. If your partner or loved on struggles with certain things, try to find someone that specializes in those areas. Be proactive! Make things as easy on your loved on as possible and you’ll help ensure that things will go as smoothly as possible!

8.      Remember that they are hurting and these things are not easy for them to talk about.


9.      Sharing Experiences: Another approach that works for me because I’m very open about the fact that I’m in therapy and that it is helpful for me is simply to state that fact: "Sometimes I have found that I'm going through a stage in my life when I just can't handle it on my own. That's when I call my therapist. Seeing her makes a huge difference, not just for me, but for everyone in my life. I think you would feel a lot better if you saw a therapist, too." It often helps to share something of yourself so they don’t feel singled out and isolated. It can also make the entire process much less scary and much less shameful.

             Mind you this wasn't always the case. I fought the idea of therapy for 18 years before I opened to the idea of it. At first I was incredibly resistant to the idea. Of course I also was not approached very productively either. My parents attempted to corner and force me into it. This was a terrible approach. I didn't think there was anything wrong with me. I didn't feel I could trust my parents or the way they approached me. I didn't think I could trust a counselor or therapist. Why would a stranger care after all?  Who was this stranger? What made them think they would know me? I was insulted. I felt threatened. I felt betrayed. This is why approaching with care is so important. If you don't you'll only push the person away. 

10.  Another line of thinking that can be helpful is to remind the person that going to see a therapist when you have relationship problems is a sign of both common sense and strength. If your roof starts leaking after a big storm, you probably don't spend a lot of time berating yourself for not being able to re-roof your house by yourself. If your car's engine needs a tune-up, you probably won't feel ashamed or guilty for paying good money to get a professional to do the job. It is impossible to see yourself as another person sees you, and a therapist can provide that service to help you feel better. Whether it is a roof, a car, yourself, or a marriage, it makes sense to bring in a professional at the appropriate time. {1}

11.  Above all, VALIDATE your loved ones feelings and experiences. Reinforce that you care and that you only want them to feel as best as they can. You worry. You care. You think this route could be helpful for their well-being.

Things to AVOID:
·         It is always a mistake to say flatly to someone that they might "need help" which is almost always taken as a value judgment, a shaming criticism or perhaps just as an indication that you don't want to take time to listen or to understand their predicament.

·         Do not JUDGE.

·         Do not give Ultimatums.

·         Do not Demand.

·     Do not use ‘You’ statements. That is sentences that begin with “You”. These sounds like accusations. Always use “I” statements when possible. 

Above All you have to remember: Seeking help and seeking therapy is up to your Loved One. It is ultimately their life and their choice. You can’t make them do something against their will. All you can do is create boundaries for your own life and express your concerns and hopes for them. 


  1. This is great advice, not just for BPD, but in seeking help with any affliction. I think it's really hard to convey to a loved one that you think they have a problem and need help, but without coming across as judgmental and condescending.

  2. I think its brilliant advice too :)

  3. Truly helpful advice, as well as a good reminder to check motives at the door. One of my friends who told me (frequently) to seek therapy, upon reflection, probably wanted someone *else* (who theoretically agreed with her) to tell me how to behave & be a "proper" wife.

    Ironically, one of the things counseling highlighted for me is what an unhealthy friend said woman was for me....

  4. i've finally managed to tell my ex-wife 'gently' to go into therapy just for her own sake and feel better. this was something i have thus far regretted for not being able to. will she commit? i guess not:( if only wishes turn into miracles in real life as easily as they do in wonderland. nevertheless i felt immediate relief right after telling her my sincere concerns as someone who shared much energy and long enough time to get to know "the real" her.

    oh God, how i was seeking final emotional detachment from her and our 3+ years of togetherness...

    recalling how many attempts i made to communicate to her, demand her respect and how much effort i made to keep peace when things turn blue, or she goes self-harm and suicidal, or yelling, cursing and extreme raging at me even with knife out of no "real" reason... how surprisingly i was the one to always blame to not being sensitive enough or caring her hypersensivity enough that she got out of control and how i end up always apologizing to her just to calm her down, end the silent treatment and see us happy...

    pleading and confronting her to not put me into no-win situations no matter how hard i try to fulfill her requests, while beginning to understand to never achieve a reciprocal spouse-ship to the end of our days (so sad that only much later i could have grabbed the motivations and fears behind)...

    how i start gradually losing my patience against her verbal and physical assults and first time ever to curse back and then first time ever to slap a (my dearest) woman in my life and "rage back" with ever increasing intensity!:(( while i observe she tries to control herself much better as she cannot cope up with the sustained rock solid boundaries even at the expense of escalated wildness/madness. then how i reveal my thoughts to her family several times, to understand their perspective in order to adjust myself and ask their support, so that my ex and I can make it out to see the flaws with their root causes in our marriage and heal, and how all my cries for help are repelled by her mother (BPD herself with 99.9% certainty) clearly blurring the case...

    in the mean time, how i start looking for answers to aggression in marriage and learning about fundamentals of pschycology, personality disorders and "the game"(aka Karpman triangle) and after reading thousands of documents, forum posts, writings and watching hundreds of videos, i eventually make it to your site...

    dear Haven, you are doing an amazing job here!

    looking back and connecting the dots, i have to tell you i have read almost all of your posts intentionally imagining as if they were coming from my ex, as she used to not disclose her innerworld or thoughts or emotions much to me in terms of proper communication.

    ...and as a last favor from my side to ex, i think i will email link of this comment of mine to her to encourage her discover your posts and decide for herself.


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