Supporting Your Loved One Through The Therapy Process

By Tracy L. Cunningham MSW, LCSW

BE SUPPORTIVE

Your loved one will benefit from praise, encouragement and understanding as they make changes related to their mental health.  They will also value empathy.  Acknowledge your loved one’s desire to improve him or herself, and to make some changes in their life.  Love them unconditionally.  It is okay to be frustrated, but make sure that you make it known to your loved one that you are not frustrated with them, but with the disease.  Throughout your loved one’s journey, ask them what you can do to support them on their journey of self-improvement.

DON’T EXPECT THINGS TO CHANGE OVERNIGHT

Change must come from the person seeking therapy and real change takes time.  It is likely that your loved one’s unhealthy behaviors and/or thoughts began long ago and have been re-enforced over and over again, for years.  These engrained thoughts and behaviors are not going to be magically fixed with one or two visits to a therapist’s office.  It is not uncommon for clients to be in therapy for six months to a year, if not longer.  As your loved one makes changes, it is not unusual for them to have some setbacks.  Try to practice patience as your loved one’s progress ebbs and flows and he or she tries to implement new skills learned from therapy sessions.  Make time to celebrate the “small” changes and improvements that transpire throughout the process.

EDUCATE YOURSELF & KNOW THE FACTS

You can avoid many missteps and misunderstandings by learning what they must deal with. Once you understand you can better support your loved one. Learn about informed consent and the legal aspects of treatment in your state. There are many reputable websites available that provide education on mental health conditions. Some mental health agencies or community groups, such as NAMI (National Alliance of Mental Illness), provide family support groups to assist family members with understanding and coping with their loved one’s condition.

DON’T MINIMIZE THEIR PAIN – IT’S NOT AS SIMPLE AS WANTING SOMETHING BADLY ENOUGH

Depressed people are not simply choosing to see the negatives over the positives.  They are truly unable to access any positive feelings.  Saying things like “snap out of it” or making light of their very real pain is helpful to no one.  Validate their feelings.  They deserve your love and compassion.  Your loved one cannot simply wish him or herself healthy.  If your loved one appears to be struggling, encourage your loved one to use some of the skills he or she has learned in therapy or to reach out for support.

JUST BE THERE DON’T CRITICIZE OR SHAME

Give them a shoulder to cry on and listen whenthey spill their hearts out.  Hold their hand to support them.  Ask what you can do to help.  Let them know you care and know that it is not their fault.  What you say will have a very real impact on your loved one. They are already struggling with feelings of guilt and self-criticism.  From the outside it may be very easy for you to see ways in which they can improve their life, but before you say anything make sure you don’t accidentallyimply that they are choosing to feel the way they do.

TAKE THREATS SERIOUSLY

Suicide is a very serious threat.  If your loved one is threatening suicide don’t leave them alone.  Remove weapons or large amounts of medications.  Call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.  These threats are too serious to remain silent about and not seek immediate help for.

TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF

Monitor your own mood.  Depression is an all-consuming monster.  Don’t give up on the things you love and make time to relax.  Set boundaries.  You cannot be supportive 100% of the time.  It is important to be clear about what you are willing and not willing to do.  Get your own emotional support.  Talk to people you trust about what YOU are feeling.  If you have reached a point where you feel that you can no longer cope alone, talk to us. We can help.

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