Do you find yourself in the position of being the “listener?” Being there for dear ones who are in pain, or they are so stressed out, perhaps they are dealing with loss or illness, or lack of sleep, and that it’s all just too much to handle, and there you are, a listening ear, calmly nodding. But the brain behind the ear is thinking, “WHAT THE HELL AM I SUPPOSED TO TELL THIS PERSON??”
Often, it’s your professional role that puts you in this position. I’ve spoken to divorce attorneys, medical care professionals, real estate agents, professional organizers, and plenty of others who recognize that a client could benefit from therapy. If you’re in any kind of professional role where you’re working with clients who are in transitional times, it’s quite likely that they could benefit from mental health support from a licensed therapist or social worker. Even better, that help may be covered by insurance.
Whether you’re just that kind of friend, or it’s your job that puts you in the listener role, it can be hard to find the words to guide someone towards a therapy. There’s still stigma around seeing a therapist. People believe that seeking psychotherapy must mean they’re crazy, or damaged in some way. The more we talk about therapy, the more normal it becomes, and the more we can all benefit from its scientific wisdom.
First of all, a quick and dirty explanation of what a client, or patient, can expect from mental health counseling, otherwise known as therapy or psychotherapy (it’s all the same thing). It is a process, usually based on talking for about an hour every week, with a professional who is trained in understanding you and helping you to access your innate resources. Most therapists have some kind of specialty, so it can be helpful to find someone who has experience with the particular issue showing up. And these days, therapy doesn’t mean endless hours of talking about your childhood (though that remains a helpful option for some!). Depending on the issues at hand and the needs of the clients, the course of therapy can be as short as four weeks.
If you’ve decided to start therapy, check out, or for their therapist directory. Contact a few that seem intriguing, and decide if the therapist is a good fit. During the first appointment the therapist will usually ask a series of questions in order to get a good idea of what you’re going through. If you’re planning to use insurance, there will be a diagnosis given; this is something you can feel free to discuss with the therapist. In fact, you can feel free to discuss anything at all with the therapist. And if you get the sense that you can’t, it might not be the right fit.
Hopefully, you can provide this information to others, if they’re feeling lost and overwhelmed by the idea of finding a therapist. But even before we get there, you’ve got to bring up the topic! I’m listing some ideas here, which may or may not be appropriate depending on the situation. The way you discuss this in a professional setting might not look quite the same as over wine with a friend. Either way, these lines should help avoid a conversation that ends in “What, you think I’m f*cking crazy??”
  1. “Have you ever thought about talking with anyone else/a professional about what you’re going through?” A classic. When you say this, you’re letting the other person know that you are not the only person available, and opening the door to the conversation.
  2. “You know, when I was going through something hard, I ended up seeing a therapist, and she was super helpful.” Open up about your own experience with therapy, if you have one and if you’re OK with that. Of course this is very personal but it may help another person normalize the experience.
  3. “I just met a therapist at a party who deals with exactly this sort of thing. Let me see if I have her name…she seemed really nice!” Talk about a therapist you know in a personal context. Get to know me if you like!
  4. “I have this article here from a therapist, she wrote about exactly what you’re talking about.” If you’re a professional, this might make sense; you can keep some print outs of blog posts or articles by local therapists. Typically, you’ll see similar issues in your own clients: divorce lawyers see people coping with loss of stability, real estate agents witness stress brought on by finances and major change, etc. See if there is a therapist who treats issues you see often, and consider connecting with that person so that you can confidently make a referral.
  5. “I can hear so much pain in what you’re going through, and I’m beginning to worry about your well-being. What would you think about reaching out for more support?” Sometimes, people are struggling in ways that are dangerous to them. Substance abuse, hurting themselves or staying in abusive relationships are some examples. A good therapist will be able to address these issues with appropriate supports and a background of research about what helps.
  6. “Would it be ok with you if we look together for some more support about what you’re going through?” Ask permission, and provide partnership in moving to this next step. That may mean spending some time on the therapist listings, or staying with your friend while you make contact with a good referral.
If you’re trying to bring up the topic with someone in your life, or even if you’re considering therapy for yourself, reach out. There are so many resources out there to support you as you go through difficult times, or even as things sail along smoothly and you just want to be prepared! You can always contact me at, or check out my website, to learn more about my specialties of insomnia and anxiety treatment. I’m happy to answer questions, point you in the right direction, or hear about that time you tried to suggest therapy to a friend!
Content provided by Women Belong member Sonja Seglin