How to Encourage Your Parents to Go to Therapy

father and son having a conversation

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For teens and young adults, as well as adults, it’s challenging when you recognize that your parents need therapy. Sometimes parents associate seeking counseling with having “something wrong with them.” After all, for generations, mental health issues were taboo topics and not discussed.

So, perhaps you fear your parents will be hesitant about the whole issue. Or totally rule out your ideas completely. Although therapy is not always a welcome suggestion, you can address the conversation in a productive manner, and help your parents see the value of therapy.

The Stigma of Therapy

The stigma surrounding mental health issues has abated, but it still endures. Thus, your parents might not be entirely receptive to what you have to say. They may fear that others will perceive them negatively after learning that they are in treatment. Stemming from the philosophy that we must take care of ourselves and not ask for help, some parents may feel like the issue they're facing is a weakness they would do better hiding.

Fortunately, seeking out mental health services is more normalized than in the past. Be sure to share that with your parents. They likely know someone who has benefited from psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, or other mental health specialists, either in your extended family, school, or neighborhood.

Broaching the Subject

The first step might seem the hardest: how to begin the conversation when you’re uncomfortable. First, give your parents notice that you have something important to discuss with them so they’re not blindsided. Set a time. Then as you start speaking, remember to be kind during this awkward conversation.

You can’t go wrong by beginning with the statement, “I love you both. But there seems to be something that needs to be addressed.”

By approaching the subject with love, you set up a comforting environment. Then explain why you suggest they need help without accusing or blaming. Stick to the facts and observations.

Common Reasons for Suggesting Therapy

Next, state what you have observed. Try to do so in a neutral, factual way, without judgment.

Addiction and Alcoholism

For example, you might say that you’ve noticed your dad blacked out a few times on the floor, that you found empty liquor bottles in the trash, and have heard him slur his words many times. Perhaps alcohol is affecting him and he may need help.

Marital Problems

Perhaps the issue is the bitterness between your parents. Again, begin the conversation with facts. You might state that you noticed your parents are sleeping in different rooms, that they don’t eat dinner together, and they are arguing more often.

You can say you hear the yelling from your bedroom upstairs while you are studying for your tests. Then add that you wonder if a marriage therapist might have advice to help them get through this.

Depression

Maybe the problem is that your mom has seemed extremely depressed for months now. Focus on that. You can say you’re not an expert and that we all feel down sometimes, but that you’ve noticed she isn’t smiling, has lost weight lately, and seems to have withdrawn from socializing with friends and participating in her hobbies.

Offer the idea that sometimes we all need to lean on others and ask for assistance. Reassure her that there is nothing wrong with needing help.

Allow awkward silences. Be open to a parent denying there is an issue or expressing fear about “going there” or opening up this Pandora’s box. Understand that parents can react in myriad ways. Just maintain your cool and know you are trying to do something good for them and the family.

Help Your Parents See the Importance of Therapy

While it isn’t your responsibility to take care of this problem, you might be a positive catalyst towards their healing. They might not realize how much their issue is affecting the whole family. Obviously, they are in pain.

By bringing the matter to their attention, you are helping them acknowledge they might have a problem and might need outside assistance. Perhaps the problem is bigger than they can handle. And that’s okay. You can help by offering them educational resources from the library or referring them to online resources.

Addiction and Alcoholism Counseling

In the case of alcoholism, or alcohol use disorder as it’s now called, you might share information about the symptoms. There are even quizzes to help your parent determine if they have a problem with alcohol.

Marriage Counseling

When discussing the topic of marriage counseling, you could tell your parents that there are various forms of marriage counseling to choose from. You could mention that studies have shown that if you start counseling early, it can lead to more success. Couples can learn how to handle their disagreements better and build a relationship from a foundation of affection and friendship

Depression Counseling

Depression affects the whole family. Depression is sometimes thought of as an invisible illness, but the impact on families is real. Children might have to take on adult roles so the house runs efficiently and may feel guilt or frustration. They might worry that there is something they did to cause the depression in the first place. 

Danielle Johnson, MD, FAPA and chief medical officer at Lindner Center of HOPE, says that the COVID-19 pandemic “has taken a particular toll on women due to increased job loss and financial insecurity. There were also increased caregiver responsibilities because of loss of childcare due to daycare and school closings, caring for ill parents, and teaching children who were learning virtually.” The impact on many women was massive.

A Word From Verywell

While either of your parents or both of them might benefit from therapy, the decision is yours to make about intervening. Alcoholism, marriage problems, and depression are just three common reasons for which you might want to suggest your parents opt for help. There are many other conditions that would benefit greatly from therapeutic solutions.

The point is if you’re noticing a recurring and persistent problem that therapy might productively help, you should feel empowered to suggest therapy to increase your parents’ well-being and healing.

Johnson’s final advice? She says, “Teenagers and young adults can encourage their parents to seek therapy by reminding them of their importance to the family and that it is necessary to prioritize care for themselves so they have enough to give for others.”

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