A question I often get asked is, "how can I suggest to my friend/relative/colleagues that they might benefit from counselling?" It seems to be an issue that can leave many of us tongue-tied as people fear their care and good intentions will be interpreted badly.
In this blog I thought I'd discuss some of the things I've found helpful to bring up the conversation in a way that's thoughtful and respectful. Obviously, it will depend on the nature of your relationship with the person but hopefully these thoughts can provide a framework to work from.
Take some time.
It's usually best to avoid having these conversations in the heat of the moment. If there's someone you're concerned about, perhaps invite them over for a cup of tea, out for a coffee or a walk together. If that's not something you'd usually do then you can be honest with the person and say you've noticed that they've seemed a bit down/anxious/stressed and you wanted to catch up with how they're doing. They may not want to take you up on the offer - in which case you can simply let them know that you're there if they ever do want to talk.
Asking someone how they really are can feel like opening Pandora's Box, especially if it's somebody you don't often talk about emotions with. However, you don't need to be an expert in order to help. Listening - without offering solutions - is a great starting point. It may be the first time someone has really taken the time to hear about what's going on for them. As a culture, we're not known for admitting we feel bad, so some clues to how they are really feeling may lie in the way they talk about themselves e.g. "I just feel so stupid/fat/ugly/useless all the time" or "I can't stand the way I seem to keep getting it wrong".
Asking what support they have in place is a non-threatening way to explore what kind of help might be available. During your discussion you can bring up the idea of counselling if you feel it's appropriate. Depending on what they've told you about how they're feeling it may also be a good idea to raise the idea of visiting their GP. You can find out more about this from the Mental Health Foundation. It may help to offer to go with them to the doctors or look up what kind of counselling might work best for them.
Checking in on your friend/relative/co-worker to see how they're getting on shows that you still care and that nothing they've told you has shocked you or scared you off.
Taking care of you.
Entering into the emotional world of another can be hard work, especially if it's not something you're used to or trained in. It's important that you find a way to decompress afterwards. You may also find that your friend/relative/colleague feels better for talking to you and so seek to make you a key part of their support system. Whilst that is understandable, it's really important that you know and protect your limits. If a friend came to you with a broken leg, you might offer some first aid, but you'd always call an ambulance too as both you and your friend recognise that you're not a trained doctor. Similarly, you can support and facilitate people to get professional help for emotional and mental health care too, without feeling like you have to take on more than you can handle.