Navigating how to best support a loved one who is struggling with mental health challenges can be a difficult experience in itself. If a friend or family member has confided in you about his or her decision to attend mental health counseling, it can be tricky to know how to help while prioritizing their privacy. If you’re wondering how to best support a loved one through mental health counseling, here are a few tips to keep in mind:
1. Congratulate your friend on admitting they need help
Going to counseling is no walk in the park. The self-assessment required to begin counseling as well as the actual process of getting started can be intimidating. Your loved one will have likely faced stigma, prejudices and hesitation in arriving at their decision to attend mental health counseling. In addition to applauding your friend’s participation in counseling, make sure to thank them for sharing. Keeping open communication about counseling can be a major support to your loved one. If you’re struggling with the right words, try “I may not always know how to feel or respond, but I think it’s brave of you to talk about your counseling and want you to know I’m here to listen.”
2. Support the treatment plan they choose
As your loved one is open about attending counseling, ask about his or her goals for treatment. These can be personal goals or part of a designated treatment plan. Research shows that support systems can bolster the positive impact on mental health interventions, so being aware of the end goal can allow you to offer the best encouragement. Don’t force your friend or family member into sharing details of counseling against their will, but instead simply take the time to familiarize yourself with any details they choose to share. He or she will feel affirmed by your interest in helping.
One of the most helpful resources you can offer is time. Simply being available for that healthy external processing can work wonders. Schedule a weekly walk or a phone call and expect to listen. Establishing a pattern of sharing emotions and experiences will be beneficial for both of you.
3. Familiarize yourself with helpful mental health resources
In general, it’s a great idea to familiarize yourself with available mental health resources, both local and online mental health channels. Read psychology resources and articles about treatment options or find mindfulness activities you can participate in together. A small investment of time will make your loved one feel incredibly supported. There are also a wide variety of valuable mental health resources online, as well as mobile applications perfect for smartphones, that can help both you and your loved one navigate the thoughts and feelings you’re currently experiencing.
4. Knowing your role
As a support person, you are not a therapist, a life coach, a psychiatrist, a doctor or a counselor. Your role as a support person is crucial and unique, but limited like every other role. You cannot diagnose your friend, in the same way a doctor can’t surprise your friend with ice cream on a tough day.
Your friend likely values your opinion highly, and may make important decisions based on what you say. Use discretion in offering advice or suggestions. As a friend, your main job is to listen. Instead of giving your opinion on a medication change, ask “how do you feel since you switched medications?” or “what changes have you noticed?” Picture yourself as a sounding board, and allow that time and space for your friend to share in the confidence of your company.
5. Ask for help
Having a friend or family member struggle with mental health issues can feel like a secret burden. Often this love and care that we show to others can take a toll on our own lives. Supporting someone in this way can put a strain on our finances, relationships, time and emotional energy.
The devotion required to support a loved one struggling with mental health can be overwhelming. There is no shame in acknowledging this predicament, and even discussing it with your loved one. Typically, it is an indication that more intensive or frequent counseling is necessary and you’ll be helping your friend by bringing it up. The awkwardness of the conversation will be worth it.
Likewise, do not be afraid to seek counseling for yourself through Pyramid Online Counseling if the emotional toll is persistent. You’re best suited to help others if you’re taking care of your own mental health, too. We’re available at (833) 525-3077; you can also fill out our streamlined contact form and a licensed healthcare professional will reach out to help you work through next steps.
Supporting your friend or family member through mental health counseling is a selfless role. As your loved one embraces mental health treatment, there are likely to be ups and downs. Remembering to affirm, listen and equip yourself with knowledge and resources helpful to sustain your emotional fortitude, and always be honest with yourself about your bandwidth to shoulder the burden alongside your loved one. In the meantime, don’t forget to take care of yourself as well. Your loved one is lucky to have someone like you on their team.