As a therapist, one of the most common issues that parents and family members ask me about their loved one is “how can we make him/her come to therapy?” I would like to share some thoughts and ideas about this.
The short answer is, “You can’t!” Every adult has the right to consent to treatment, and even adolescents who are still legally minors have the right to assent. Therapy with a therapist that we didn’t chose, don’t trust, or feel that we are being coerced to see is not going to be helpful to anyone.
However, as the parents or loved ones of people experiencing distress there are many things you can do to support them, and help them find a therapist that can be of assistance in supporting them, too.
Here are 7 things you can do to support your loved ones in finding the best fit for them:
1. Don’t panic.
Learning that your child or loved one is hearing voices or having other unusual experiences can be scary. But you are not alone and neither is your loved one! Research shows than between 10-25% of all people have experiences like this (but up until now society hasn’t been so great about speaking about them). It is very normal for parents and family members to feel overwhelmed. However, the most important thing you can do is remain calm. It is crucial that your child or loved one know that you are not afraid of what is happening and don’t see him or her as ‘crazy’ or ‘mad’.
2. Give them space to talk.
It is difficult to make sense of unusual experiences if we keep them to ourselves. If children or loved ones want to talk about what they are experiencing they will probably come to you first as someone they trust, and it’s important that the response they get be positive. First, we should ask if they would like to talk about what’s going on. Then really try to listen to what they describe, asking questions if that’s useful. If the experiences or beliefs they describe sound strange, try listening without judgment. What they are attempting to describe might be quite extraordinary, and it’s quite understandable that unusual beliefs would follow. Try not to get caught up in discussions about logic and reality. It’s more helpful and validating to just focus on how they are feeling.
3. Focus on their strengths and abilities.
As Rachel Waddingham says in the book Young People Hearing Voices, “If your child is struggling, it’s easy for everyone around them to lose sight of the young person’s strength and resources”. And yet young people with psychosis impress us with their resilience time and again. Try and avoid falling into the trap of seeing or talking about your child only in terms of their problems. What do you admire about them? What are they better at than anyone else? What do you do together? Can any vulnerabilities actually be viewed as strengths?
4. Reference their goals.
Everybody has goals, hopes and dreams for their lives. Whatever these are, the daily step-by-step process of working towards them brings us as much benefit as the actual goal itself. The onset of voices, other unusual experiences or strongly held beliefs does not mean that these goals are no longer valid. It may be important for you to “hold the hope” and remind your loved one that recovery is possible, for the vast majority of people (despite what you might be told). It can also be really helpful to build ‘shared goals’, such as your loved one’s happiness or improved quality of life, as it is much easier to work towards solutions from a place of agreement.
5. Introduce therapy as a tool to help people overcome obstacles and achieve their goals.
One nice way to introduce the idea of therapy is in reference to the person’s goals: “I know that it is so important to you to graduate college, and I can see that these voices, whatever they are, are really interfering with that process right now. How would it be to talk to a therapist who might be able to help you cope with the stress the voices are causing?”
6. Refrain from telling them that they are sick or ill.
At NYC CBTp we believe experiences and beliefs commonly regarded as symptoms of psychosis are often highly understandable reactions to adverse life events (which is supported by a great deal of scientific research evidence). We do not give people diagnostic labels or insist that they subscribe to a particular explanation of their experiences. Instead, we are committed to helping people figure out some of the stressors in their lives that might have precipitated these experiences, and help them deal with, or even remove them, so that they can move forward.
7. Please do not lie, trick or sneak around behind the person.
If loved ones are already feeling paranoid and their family is also doing things and talking to professionals behind their back it isn’t going to make them feel better. However, it is more likely to make them isolate, and less likely to trust anyone who might be offering to help them. The most important thing is to keep family relationships strong and communication open, which requires openness, honesty and transparency.
If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.
About the Author
Sally E. Riggs, DClinPsy, ACT
NY Licensed Psychologist
Diplomate of the Academy of Cognitive Therapy
Dr Riggs is a licensed psychologist and expert in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for psychosis with 19 years of experience working in this field in both London, UK and the US. She has worked in both public and private healthcare settings throughout her career, teaching and training mental health professionals in CBTp extensively, as well as working directly with people with psychosis. She is a Founding Member and current President of the North American CBT for psychosis Network. She also founded NYC CBTp in 2016, the first ever private practice group dedicated to providing evidence-based cognitive behavioral therapy for people with psychosis.
Image by Inzmam Khan` from Pixabay
The opinions and views expressed in this guest blog do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in this article or linked to herein.
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3 thoughts on “How Do I Help My Child or Loved One Engage with Therapy?”
I really appreciate this article and these guidelines. Very timely for me personally right now. Thank you.
Glad to be of help, NC Mom. And thanks for reading our blog! – Jay
Dr. Riggs we are very thankful for your important article! I particularly loved in your 7 ways to support a loved one- focusing on strengths and abilities as well as introducing therapy as a tool towards goals.