My best friend, love of my life, a very important person for me right now, will not go to therapy. She is a deeply emotional person and really struggles to communicate her feelings and needs until she is literally hurting the people around her, including me. I really want to keep my relationship with her in the long term, but it’s really hard to hear her talking about these big personal and relational issues that she should really be talking about with a therapist. I encourage her to look for a therapist every time we call on the phone (about once a week). I’ve even sent her reference lists. She knows that I go and have been going and that it has saved my life. She tells me she admires my ability to be open and articulate about my feelings–I tell her I learned it in therapy. To be honest, she’s a little self-destructive and can be exhausting to care so much about, even though she’s working really hard. I feel like she needs to work some stuff out for herself with a little professional help. She had a bad therapist experience early on and is really slow-moving about it. Is there a way to get her to understand? A life-changing book I could buy her? Or do I just need to let it go? Or keep gently pushing? If she’s really not addressing some of her issues, do I need to maybe take a break from being her friend? Or give up completely?
Here is the good news—your best friend does have a therapist! Here is the bad news—that therapist is you, a person who did not sign up for this job, is not equipped for it, and is not being compensated for it! This is a challenging situation, so give yourself a little pat on the back for working so hard to be available to this person who means so much to you.
The first thing you need to do is figure out what kind of boundaries you want to set in this relationship. You have done a remarkable job of gently pushing your friend in the direction of therapy, and I don’t think you need to stop doing that. You are right that you won’t be the person who decides if she goes to therapy; she is the only person who can make that choice. The choice you do get to make is how much you are available for these conversations. You have said that she is literally hurting the people around her, including yourself. It does not make you a bad friend or a bad person to want her to stop this behavior, for your relationships sake and the sake of her relationships with others. Your weekly phone calls should be about more than the issues she is working through. You are a person in this relationship too— you get to ask for the things you need.
Take a breath. Think about what you want. Think about the kind of relationship you want to have with your best friend, think about what it would look like in practice. Maybe you do need a break from your weekly calls, just for a little while. Or maybe you want to keep up those check ins, but you want to place some limits around how much of those conversations can be about her personal and relationship issues.
Then—this is the crucial part—you have to talk about this with your best friend. So often we create lines in the sand for people’s behavior and tell ourselves that if those lines are crossed, we are moving on from the relationship. But we rarely communicate that to the person in question, which is helpful for…exactly no one! So you need to have a conversation with your friend wherein you tell her what you need from her to keep this friendship so it is beneficial for the both of you. This is probably another good time to gently push her towards a professional. If you want to revisit that reference list with her, maybe you can offer to help her draft an inquiry email to some of the therapists on that list. If you don’t have the space or mental energy for that right now, that’s fine! You can be focused on your needs during this conversation. It doesn’t sound like there has been much space for you in this friendship lately, and this is your chance to make some.
I can’t promise this conversation will be an easy one to have, or that your friend will hear this and not be hurt. Hopefully she will understand that you want the best for her, but if she isn’t in a great place right now, it’s possible she will hear this as you choosing to not support her. That doesn’t mean that you are a bad friend, or that you are in the wrong to ask for what you need. I believe in your friendship, and I hope you do too.
You can chime in with your advice in the comments and submit your own questions any time.