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.

This article explains why therapy is not always a welcome suggestion, how you can address the conversation in a productive manner, and how you can 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. One fear for parents might be the negative perception others may have of them after learning that they are in treatment. Bred on the philosophy that we must take care of ourselves and not ask for help, some 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 them. You and your family likely know someone who has benefited from psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, or other mental health specialists, either in your extended family, school, or neighborhood.

Perhaps remind them of how much therapy helped someone they know. Or just talk about how during the pandemic, mental health issues exploded. They surely read about this in newspapers and probably know someone in their Facebook or Instagram groups who discussed this.

Broaching the Subject

The first step might seem the hardest: how to begin the conversation when you’re uncomfortable.

Give your parents notice 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

Let's take a look at some of the reasons why you might suggest therapy to your parents.

Addiction and Alcoholism

For example, you might say that you’ve noticed your dad blacked out a few times on the floor, you found empty liquor bottles by the front door and 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 that both of 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 tips 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, lost so much weight lately, and she seems to have withdrawn from socializing with friends and participating in her hobbies. Offer up to her 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 one parent denying there is an issue or for another parent 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.

How to 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 refer them to online resources.

Addiction and Alcoholism Counseling

In the case of alcoholism, or alcohol use disorder as it’s now called, you might offer information from The Cleveland Clinic on symptoms and treatments. Verywell Mind also has a quiz to help your parent determine if they need assistance here.

Marriage Counseling

When discussing the topic of marriage counseling, you could educate 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

One person’s depression impacts family members, too. 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. 

Dr. Danielle Johnson, MD, FAPA and Chief Medical Officer at Lindner Center of HOPE, emphasizes that the pandemic “has taken a particular toll on women due to increased job loss and financial insecurity.” Not to be overlooked, she says, “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.

While either of your parents or both of them might benefit from therapy, the decision is yours to make about intervening. Surely 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 are now 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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