Most of us have wanted to tell a friend or loved one, at one time or another, that he or she needs professional help from a psychiatrist or psychologist. Sometimes, the reasons are obvious and easily explained; when someone is besieged by major depression or panic disorder or alcoholism, it feels natural to say, "You've got to go see someone. You don't have to suffer like this."
It's tougher to tell someone she needs to see a psychiatrist because she isn't making good choices about relationships, lacks focus, is self-consumed, doesn't have enough self-esteem or--even tougher--seems to lack character.
In the absence of a well-known psychiatric condition, advocating that a person see a psychiatrist can feel more like suggesting someone 25 pounds overweight see a nutritionist, someone with a slight lisp visit a speech therapist or someone with a double chin see a plastic surgeon.
It can make you worry you're going to cause hard feelings.
In the face of such a risk, you might wonder, why even bother?
The answer goes something like this, "Friends don't let friends drive drunk (as the saying goes), but they also don't let friends live at the mercy of unconscious forces that turn them into victims in relationships, or prevent them from seeing and pursuing their real talents, or make them constantly seek out more and more control over others when what they really need is to be loved.
You wouldn't even let your sister or brother or husband or business partner walk around with a stain on the back of his shirt or a broken heel on one shoe. How could anyone defend letting anyone he truly cares about walk around handicapped by emotional dynamics that are limiting or even hobbling?
And there is no comfort to be taken in the notion that bringing up such matters is frivolous--a dead end, with no solution to be found.
The truth is that psychotherapy (and the appropriate use of medications, when indicated) is a miraculous, highly effective means of helping people overcome destructive, limiting patterns in their lives.
It can allow someone to finally become comfortable being assertive. It can help someone to finally take the chance of being truly intimate with another human being. It can empower someone to abandon half-hearted attempts to become a "success" and free him to pursue his true goals and real talents.
It can heal people who have been hurting for a lifetime--even a life of five or six or seven decades. And, in the hands of a talented psychotherapist, the healing need not take five years. It can happen in five months, and, sometimes, in just five weeks.
What's more, someone supremely skilled in this remarkable healing art is likely to be found right in your city. And, if not, some of the best psychotherapists in the country--and the world--now offer their services via Skype.
So, how do you break the ice and tell someone she "needs a shrink?"
Lead with the good news, which is what's good about the person you are approaching. And include the fact that you're personally invested in optimizing that part of him or her.
It might go something like this: "Sara, you're an incredible person. You have so much to offer the right man. It makes me sad to see you choosing one guy after another who disappoints you. I really think you should talk to someone."
Or, "Steve, you're incredibly talented. It kills me when you get in these conflicts that end up derailing your projects. You've gotta sit down with a professional who can help you figure out what's going on. I'd do it, but I'm sold on the wonderful parts of you and wouldn't end up calling you out on the other stuff."
In case you worry that the person you're reaching out to will think he or she is being called crazy, use a physical fitness analogy: "People go to the gym and work out on Nautilus machines, and no one walks up to them, wondering what physical disability they have. Psychotherapy is Nautilus for your mind. It doesn't mean you're weak; it means you're intent on getting incredibly strong."
It actually helps if you've taken the plunge yourself, by the way. Then you can really dissolve your friend or loved one's resistance: "I've got to tell you, it took me way too long to get into therapy myself. If I'd known how helpful it was going to be, I would have started years ago."
Go for it. Think of someone in your life who has been under-performing in life and resolve to urge that person to make the most of his or her existence--by using the inexplicable, immeasurable healing power of insight and empathy properly harnessed. It's called psychotherapy. Friends don't let friends stumble through life without recommending it.
Keith Ablow, MD is a psychiatrist, and was host of the nationally-syndicated "Dr. Keith Ablow Show." He is a former member of the Fox News Medical A Team.