How to Help Someone Get Help (and not ruin your relationship)

By Rachel Martin, AMFT, supervised by Marté J. Matthews, LMFT

We’ve all been there. A friend or family member, even a coworker calls and you feel your stomach drop to the floor. As they talk, the issues they’re struggling with become overwhelming. And now more than ever with the COVID-19 outbreak and Black Lives Matter movement in full swing, we are experiencing heavier issues. You wish you could take some weight off of their shoulders and help them feel better. But instead you end up feeling like you’re responsible for fixing the problem. The more you try, the worse it gets. You find yourself trying to avoid talking about anything that might lead to another impromptu “therapy session,” but it seems that the more you try to keep the conversation light, the more your friend’s problems take over every interaction. You want to say “Maybe you should talk to someone…” but you’re worried that you might make things worse. You might question yourself, “Who am I to tell someone they need help?”

You are someone who cares. You are someone who realizes that the person in front of you is struggling, and needs more than you can provide. You might just be the strongest and wisest person in their support network because you recognize that you can’t fix this for them. You can recognize when someone else would be more appropriate to help your friend.

How do we help a friend realize it’s time to talk with a therapist? Maybe we are concerned that the person will react in anger, attack us for thinking they need help. How can we make sure that our words don’t send the person spiraling further into crisis, thinking that they can’t even count on us to be there for them? The fact is, we can’t control the person’s reaction at all. They might take it well, or they might react negatively and withdraw, leaving you to worry and wonder about their well-being. That’s a really difficult thing to imagine. So we don’t do anything. Challenge yourself to break out of analysis paralysis. Is this current situation working? Are they learning skills to help accept and adapt, and improve their life? And are you able to maintain a happy and healthy life while trying to support a person who needs more than you can offer? If the answer is no, then it might be worth thinking about encouraging the person to seek professional therapeutic help.

How to begin? First come from a place of honesty about what you are and aren’t able to do to support this person. It’s hard to identify your own limitations and capabilities. Hard, but necessary. Identify ways that you are capable and willing to support this person. You will need to set clear boundaries to keep yourself healthy and happy while using your extra “oxygen” to support your friend/coworker/family member/patient. Let the person know how much you do care. Identify the ways you are actually able to support them, and what you can’t do anymore. This helps clarify what exactly their needs are. Then together you can identify who might be able to help them with those needs.

A very wise therapist I know (Beth Proudfoot, LMFT, owner of Child & Family Counseling Group) encourages people to think about “putting on your own oxygen mask first” before trying to help others. Those airline attendants are really onto something when they encourage us to make sure we’ve got our own needs taken care of first, before we accidentally give away what we need. You might need to consult a friend, colleague, or your own therapist or to help you identify your own capabilities, needs and boundaries before deciding how you can best support your friend.

It’s never easy to watch someone struggle. Take the time to figure out what support you are actually able to provide without taking on the other person’s problems. Modeling how to take care of yourself and seek out support is a very powerful way to support the people in your life. Child & Family Counseling Group has therapists who can offer therapy to adults, in addition to children, teens and families. Please visit our website and email or call if you or someone you know needs a counselor.


Please note that Child & Family Counseling Group, Inc. is a private organization and we are not a crisis center.  

​If you or your child is currently experiencing a crisis in which anyone is feeling unsafe, please contact:

Uplift Child & Adolescent Mobile Crisis at 408-379-9085
Alum Rock Child & Adolescent Mobile Crisis at 408-294-0579
Suicide & Crisis Hotline at 855-278-4204


In case of life-threatening emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest hospital emergency room.

Other resources for help in a crisis

Bill Wilson Center SOS Crisis Hotline 408-278-2585
BWC’s SOS Crisis Hotline is a specialized line answering calls 24/7 from parents, teachers, and community support persons for children and youth who are experiencing an immediate behavioral or mental health escalation or crisis. They provide an urgent phone or in-person response to help de-escalate and stabilize the situation.

Domestic Violence 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
Advocates are available 24/7 in more than 200 languages. All calls are free and confidential.

National Eating Disorders Association Helpline (800) 931-2237
Contact the Helpline for support, resources and treatment options for yourself or a loved one.
Helpline Phone hours are Monday-Thursday from 11AM to 9PM ET, and Friday from 11AM to 5PM ET.
Helpline Chat hours are Monday-Thursday from 9AM to 9PM ET and Friday 9AM to 5PM ET.
Helpline volunteers are trained to help you find the information and support you are looking for. Reach out today!

National Parent Helpline:  1-855-427-2736

24/7 Teenline for Youth: 1-888-247-7717

Santa Clara County Mobile Crisis Response (for adults in crisis) 1-800-704-0900

Crisis Textline text HOME to 741741

© 2020 by Child & Family Counseling Group, Inc.