Recommending therapy to a loved one

This is a tough spot to be in, and your next move is important. You certainly can’t force a person you care about to do anything, but you can open up a helpful dialogue.

Are you the right person to intervene?

Firstly, ask yourself if you’re the best person to do the convincing. Check how close you are to the person. Nobody likes being told what to do, and that’s especially the case if you’re not a trusted and close family member, friend or partner. Likewise, they won’t be receptive to you if you don’t have a strong relationship with them. Make sure you have the type of relationship with a person where you can actually have this conversation before you suggest what they do with their life.

Plan out your reasons

Once you decide to go ahead to start the conversation, plan your case. Remember to stay calm and approach with empathy. Here are some tips to guide the conversation:

  • Emphasise the importance of your relationship with the person: It’s usually easier to hear “seek professional help” from someone you know well than from an acquaintance. You can express how their maladaptive behaviours make you concerned about their wellbeing. Avoid giving an ultimatum unless you intend to follow through.
  • Specify the problematic behaviours: Don’t say “always” or “never”, instead, describe examples you have noticed that have raised your concerns. Remember to not blame the person for the symptoms, be specific and nonjudgmental.
  • Describe how the behaviours affect the person and those around them: Being able to identify how a person’s specific problematic behaviour is adversely affecting others lets the person know that the issue is bigger than them.
  • Identify positive qualities: It’s usually easier to start conversations about getting help by pointing out what you like and admire about them. Remind them that it takes courage and strength to reach out for help, and those are also admirable qualities.

Offer to help

There’s no point of having the conversation if you are unable to help. You need to be available to support and offer resources, help with finding a professional, go along with them to the first appointment or assist with fees. It’s also a good idea to mention you won’t ask specifics about the session, just superficial things. Ask what else you can do as this may present you with options you never realised. Your offer to help may be unwanted and that’s OK as long as they know you’re there to help.

What if your conversation is rejected?

No matter how close your relationship with the person is or how you approach the conversation, there’s still a chance it can go wrong. People have the right to be offended even if you come with good intentions. Be prepared for the person to be upset and angry. Give them room to think and continue the conversation another day. Let them know you have been thinking of them and their struggles. In the end, it’s up to them how they want to proceed.

For more information, see:

SANE – Refusing treatment

BPD Central – How do I “make” my family member seek therapy?

The Three Seas – How to encourage a loved one to seek therapy

Refinery29 – How to encourage someone to see a therapist

Psych Central – How to persuade your loved one to seek professional help

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health – How can I support a person with BPD seeking treatment?



LIZ – Her preparation for the intervention

LIZ – The intervention

To see more BPD interview footage, visit Borderliner Notes.