Convincing friend to seek therapy

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

Q. I am writing this because I need help dealing with my friend (and just so we’re clear, I really am talking about a female friend of mine. I am a guy.) Basic background, we’re both 19, currently attending college together, (where neither of us really knows anyone else), and have more or less been good friends since 7th grade. Basically, she has lately begun to feel more and more depressed and hopeless, and I’m afraid she may be verging on suicidal. Although she has family problems (her father is an alcoholic,) it is mostly due to the fact that she has never been kissed, had a boyfriend, etc., and naturally assumes it will never happen (she tells me this often.) Because of one sexual experience, she considers me (and anyone else with any sort of experience) to be a better person than her. I can imagine that using sex as such a strong justification for having low self esteem is a sign of a deeper problem, but being that I am suffering from similar thoughts and have no psychological training, trying to get her to change that way of thinking is a little out of my reach. She recently told me that her mom might be willing to fund therapy for her, but i highly doubt she’ll be doing it anytime soon, mostly because she feels like she “doesn’t need it” (although I’m sure it has more to do with feeling she doesn’t deserve it.) She also seems to have very little confidence in its potential, despite countless attempts by myself to convince her otherwise (how can someone who lacks the knowledge and experience of a professional psychologist possibly show another how psychotherapy can help them?) That is my main question; how can I convince her of the potentials of therapy, and that it goes so much deeper than the empty compliments that she seems to associate it with? I’ve tried to explain that just a few months could completely change her life for the better, but still she seems to think it’s not worth the trouble. (Is this degree of stubbornness typical?) I do recognize that she is a girl, and that girls’ emotions tend to swing a bit harder than those of guys. I often wonder how much of what she says should really be taken seriously, and how much of it can be cast aside as normal “venting.” The truth is though, its getting exhausting–so many times I find myself wishing I could tell her to leave me alone and deal with her own problems, but hold myself back, wondering where the line is in which ignorance of her problems would not be considered a selfish act on my part, but rather one of justifiable and necessary self-interest. I feel that since I am the only one she tells these things to, I have some obligation to sacrifice more of my own time and stress than the average person would…not to mention the fact that she once told me that if it were not for my support, she would have killed herself long ago. I understand this is a complicated situation, but I beg you for any help you can offer. She doesn’t know that I am writing this, and since she is reluctant to try therapy, I know that she will be just as unwilling to read any self help books. The most frustrating part of it all is that even with my limited psychological knowledge, I feel I know exactly why she has these thoughts–perhaps partly because I share several of them myself. I understand how low self esteem is a cycle, and that if she could only face her fears with confidence and accept herself, so much of her happiness could be restored. The problem lies in trying to get her to see this obvious truth through the blindfold that is the crippling fear of believing herself to be better than she is. I want to thank you already for having read and considered my situation, and hope you understand that any helpful advice would be much appreciated. I imagine this situation is not terribly uncommon, so any general do’s and don’t's (or perhaps even some counseling techniques) would be very helpful to me, but ultimately life changing to her. I hope I have made this situation as clear as possible, but if not, then please feel free to ask for clarification.

A. All that you can do in this situation is keep encouraging your friend to get help. Encourage her endlessly (which it sounds like you already have been doing). There are no special tricks that I can offer you. If you have talked with her, gave her all of the reasons why she should seek help and she still refuses, then you have done all that you can for her. It is up to her to get the help she needs. It is my feeling that based on the extent of time and effort that you have placed on trying to get her into therapy and she still does not want to go, that it is unlikely that she will go. When you feel that you have done all that you can, then that is all that you can do. She is lucky to have a friend like you who cares so much but when you have made your case and she chooses not to listen, then you have done everything you can. You need to know your limitations. Once you have tried your best, done all that you know how to do, then you logically can do no more. In your life’s journey, it is very good that you will pause to help others but you can never allow this to stop you from proceeding on your journey. Should you allow this situation to interfere with where you need to go in life, then it is you who needs help. Know your limitations. Take care.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 25 Sep 2006

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2006). Convincing friend to seek therapy. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 1, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2006/09/25/convincing-friend-to-seek-therapy/