James J. De Santis, Ph.D.
Post Office Box 894, Glendora, CA 91740-0894
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How does a layperson recommend to someone the idea of consulting a
mental health professional so that they will take it well? Here are ten simple
ways for the non-professional to make a recommendation that can be both
effective and diplomatic.
#1 Offer Gentle Suggestion
When someone discusses difficulties they are having, matter-of-factly take
the initiative. Suggestion is often enough. A business card can be an easy
way of offering a referral. Say, "Here's someone who might help." Often,
people have clear opinions about counseling, either for or against. You can
leave it at that.
#2 Show Caring
"Well, you know you have my support, AND, if you might want to consult a
therapist, I can give you the name of someone that I personally know." The
best referrals are word of mouth.
#3 Avoid Medical Jargon
Talk about "a family meeting" or a "marriage check-up" rather than
"psychotherapy" or "mental health evaluation and treatment" that implies
ideas of involuntary hospitalization, years of intellectualized conversations,
or labels of "insanity" to some people.
#4 Normalize By Disclosure
If you've ever been in counseling, it lessens someone else's sense of it
being a stigma to confide that you or a loved one has benefited from it.
This makes a visit to a therapist more ordinary.
#5 Normalize By Statistics
You can mention that statistics show that at any one time 50 million
Americans can benefit from psychological support--but only 1/3 of them
seek it out.
#6 Normalize By Comparison
We routinely arrange for services from a CPA for tax advice, from a dentist
for dental checkups, from a mechanic for car maintenance. What can be
useful for many people is brief consultation with a mental health
professional--intermittently--throughout the lifespan--during times of
transition, adjustment, or crisis.
#7 Characterize As An Objective Point of View
"You know what I think already, but I also wonder if talking to a counselor
might give you some fresh ideas, too."
#8 Avoid Pressure
It is seldom helpful to insist someone seek psychological services. A good
therapist will not put pressure on someone for unnecessary services. A good
therapist will tell a person if they are not the right therapist for them,
either, and should be able to easily refer them to one of several colleagues
who are a good match: based on special areas of expertise,
gender/age/ethnicity, office location, or insurance accepted.
#9 Describe A First Appointment
If you've never been to one, a first appointment is generally a conversation.
People will usually start by talking about what they have been troubled by
and what they have tried to do so far to resolve their difficulties. The
therapist may take some notes and ask some questions. Together, client
and therapist clarify the situation, set out goals, and consider methods
most likely to adddress the need. Counseling may or may not be
recommended, and is just one possible approach.
#10 Point Out Benefits And Priorities
Cost can be minimal relative to it's potential value. Start from what the
benefits can be to the person, for example in a happier marriage, a more
satisfying job, or better-adjusted children. In our culture, we have been
indoctrinated in the notion that counseling has to be long-term, lasting
years and years. A useful consultation can be just an hour or two.
Statistics show that most people attend therapy from 4-8 sessions.
Lastly, always be yourself. Be sincere because sincerity comes across. Use
your own personal style and tailer your approach to the person you're
talking with. Remember the goal is offering constructive help to someone
you're concerned about.
How to Recommend a Psychologist