How do you gently get someone to seriously consider therapy?
July 4, 2013 6:12 AM   Subscribe

A dear old friend is losing friends through drinking, drug use, treating partners badly and borrowing money never to pay it back. She's had anger and anxiety issues for years as well as eating disorders that come and go in severity. She won't consider therapy and things are getting worse.

Whenever I try and talk to her about therapy she has a raft of reasons why not to go. They range from not being able to afford it (she can always get money for things she wants, from clothes and luxuries to drugs) to probably not needing it once [current personal crisis] is behind her so it would be a waste of time.

A number of people have told me recently that they're stepping away from her in terms of friendship because of the way she has been behaving. I've tried over the years to try and help her as much as I can but I find it incredibly draining, and I don't think I've really done much good as nothing seems to have changed at all.

I know a lot of things from her past are causing her to ride this self-destruct wave. She seeks out broken people like a missile and tries to save them, get bored, and leaves them in her wake. I feel like therapy is the key to breaking this pattern, but I just can't see a way to helping her to understand how beneficial it could be for her.

Please help if you've been in a similar situation.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (13 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
You can't fix her. She needs to want help, and therapy won't even work if she's not amenable.

The smart thing to do is begin to distance yourself, as others have done, before her self-destructive behavior has more of a negative impact on you than it already has. Again, you can't fix her, and what's more, the process of trying to fix people who are broken is incredibly draining on your own mental health.

Take care of yourself.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:23 AM on July 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but there really isn't anything more you can do for this person. You can't help someone who doesn't want to help themselves. It is one of the most heartbreaking things to watch friends and family go down this road and stand by and not be able to help, so many of us have been through this. She's drowning and unless you back off like the other friends, she will pull you down with her.
posted by NoraCharles at 6:27 AM on July 4, 2013 [6 favorites]

I think the most intelligent thing I've heard on matters such as this is, when it comes to helping people, you have to stand in the light. You cannot go into the dark to drag people into the light because you might get lost.

This is a rule in recovery. If you can't take of yourself, you'll never be able to help other people.
posted by phaedon at 6:32 AM on July 4, 2013 [11 favorites]

You aren't going to be able to force her in to therapy. When I was in a situation somewhat similar to yours I sat them down and said the following:

"I love you, you are an important friend to me, but you are doing things I know aren't healthy or safe. I keep trying to help you, I keep doing whatever I can to pull you out of this self destructive behaviour, but nothing I have ever done has made any difference. Things actually are getting worse. I have urged you to see professional help because I sincerely feel that is something that could really help you, but you refuse. That is your right, I can't force you in to anything, but I can't continue to watch you destroy your life. As much as it hurts and makes me sad, I am not able to continue with this friendship. I will miss you, but maintaining this friendship comes at too high a cost for me."

She was upset, she called me a few names, but I walked away feeling relief. Not having to invest all my energy in a friend who refused to help herself, not having to be constantly dragged down in to her self destruction and toxicity... it was liberating.

It bares saying that in time she DID get her life cleaned up. We've never reconnected, our friendship has never resumed, but I am very happy that she was able to get her life back on track.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 6:36 AM on July 4, 2013 [6 favorites]

Send her a link to this discussion. Might jar her (especially after some more replies roll in). Conversational suggestions that she needs help are something she's desensitized to from long experience. Seeing it discussed here, in a longer view, may seize her attention.

It may also make her annoyed at you. In my experience, sometimes we need to choose between being liked and being helpful. Real help can feel like friction, because it precipitates change , and most people forcefully defend against change (no one more so than someone with your friend's sort of issues).

People who need primarily to be liked are unwilling to go beyond the comfortable flow of conversational suggestion. They don't make that extra little push for change.
posted by Quisp Lover at 6:45 AM on July 4, 2013

It sounds like you're right, and therapy would really help her, but as others have pointed out you can't make someone accept help. And PhoBWanKenobi is right that therapy won't work if she's there under duress, as psychological contact between therapist and client is one of the cornerstones so if she's hugely on the defensive she'll likely keep the therapist "out".

I agree that you need to protect yourself and you shouldn't allow a relationship to drain your energy as you try to rescue her. However I'm just wondering have you talked about some alternatives to one to one therapy? For example support groups in your area for addictions/eating disorders, advising her to talk to her doctor, even just giving her some addresses for online support or self-help books?

Apart from that it sounds like you have invested a lot of time and energy already trying to help her. One thing that struck me was:
She seeks out broken people like a missile and tries to save them
It sounds a little like you're doing the same. She can't, and you can't. Your intentions are good but you're only human. There's no shame in accepting that her autonomous decision is to remain, for now, on her current path and that you are not responsible for her. Let her know that you want her to be well, that you will support her accessing support, but that until then you need to spend some time taking care of yourself.
posted by billiebee at 6:47 AM on July 4, 2013

You have to have the Intervention script and then, save yourself. She has to want it for herself.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:36 AM on July 4, 2013

I've been on both sides of this equation, and I have to agree that there isn't anything you can do to make someone change their mind and decide to talk to a professional about the storms that are constantly roiling inside their head.

Your friend is almost certainly aware that her behavior is inappropriate, but the pathways to get to that terrible place are probably much easier to take because they are more familiar to her than the narrow, winding, treacherous roads to health and happiness. If this behavior has been going on for years, it is likely a lot more comfortable to "go with the flow," no matter how awful the results might be, than it is to admit that she is an adult now and responsible for how other people perceive her no matter what her past might entail.
There is a possibility that she could be purposely alienating her friends; depending on what her history has made available to her, she might believe that she deserves to be abandoned, that she is inherently unworthy of help, and that her self-destructive streaks have rendered permanent and irreparable damage. There is nothing you or anyone else can do to change this. It is something she will need to learn organically, just as she organically learned how to operate in a pattern of maddening self-destruction.

I spent most of my life inadvertently and sometimes very purposely alienating good, kind people because I thought I knew (on the level of knowing that the sky is blue) that I couldn't possibly deserve friendship, respect, decency, or love. Again, there is nothing anyone could have done to stop the slide; every time someone pushed hard for me to go to therapy, I felt they were telling me that I was weak, sodden, and unable to take care of myself. The prospect that someone could think that about me was enough to make me buck like a wild thing and start blowing shit up all over again.
It took a truly shameful amount of psychologically crippling results to make me tired enough to face the fact that I was going to have to do the work to fix my dire attitude and learned behavior. No one could have convinced me that I should feel any other way; I was trained and practiced only in the art of wreaking havoc and then getting destroyed by it, I knew only how to wage war, and I had absolutely no idea how to operate in peacetime. Depending on how she was raised, she could be lacking the basic template for what appropriate behavior looks and feels like -- if that's the case, then telling her to seek therapy will make her feel like being told to learn another language overnight. She could be unsure where to even begin.

The most valuable thing anyone could have done for me during my years of self-imposed turmoil was say, "Hey, listen, I love you, but you're seriously fucking up right now, and I can't bear to stand by and watch anymore. You are worthy of love, acceptance, and happiness. You do not need to destroy or hate yourself. There is no virtue in making yourself suffer. I know it will be very hard to do, but I hope you will get help because you deserve it."

Put your own oxygen mask on first. You can't change her mind, you can only change whether or not her behavior affects you, and to what degree. It isn't your job to "do good" in her life, it is her job to finally accept her lot and work within its constraints. This is a tough road. Good luck.
posted by divined by radio at 7:51 AM on July 4, 2013 [11 favorites]

Went through this years ago with a friend. A couple of us went to a counselor ourselves to see how we could help her. We encouraged said friend to get therapy, rehab, ANYTHING to help with her anger and addiction issues. Eventually I moved away and the friendship fizzled.
To this day, over a decade later, she has not changed. Friends and lovers have come and gone and she still blames life for screwing her over. And she still views my attempts to help her as my thinking I'm better than her. Sigh.

In short, if I were put in this situation or similar now, I would have walked away much earlier. Too exhausting.
posted by futureisunwritten at 8:31 AM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think it helps to have an ally in this. Are you close to any of this person's other friends? A few years ago, a buddy of mine was heading down a pretty bad path (lot of drugs/drink/petty crime/perpetual unemployment/terrible life decisions) and myself and a friend used to commisserate together, even when it got so bad that we finally had to throw our hands up and forget it.

It helped us to have a sense of humour about the whole sad scenario. We used to joke that we'd raise 10 grand to send Brad* down to the Kokomo to either drink and screw his way to an early grave or clean up for good.

In the end, the person did get back on a much better (though still somewhat sketchy) path, and we reconciled. His reconciliation with the other friend didn't work so well, as the friend had dealt with him in a more confrontational manner about his problems (among other things) and the resentment never really did dry up.

* Name changed to protect the not-exactly-innocent
posted by gohabsgo at 8:38 AM on July 4, 2013

If she's an alcoholic/addict, she needs addiction treatment specifically. And if she is a long-term addict, she probably won't try to fix that until something bad enough happens. A successful intervention might help. But that's really all you can do. Going on about "therapy" could even backfire and be weirdly enabling if she thinks you are talking about issues other than substance abuse.
posted by BibiRose at 8:49 AM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Make her send a post to Ask Metafilter, where a bunch of random people will all tell her the same thing. :-)
posted by mcav at 4:52 PM on July 4, 2013

it sounds like an intervention would be a better choice than suggesting therapy right now. you can look into finding an intervention specialist and talk to them.
posted by wildflower at 7:16 PM on July 4, 2013

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