Dear Therapist:

I know someone who has a sibling who is in his early 20's and is holding down a job. However, he is socially awkward and can really benefit from therapy. However, this person will get highly insulted after being told this and may resent the person who told him. How can he be told (by a relative or professional) that his behavior calls for therapy? Can it be said straight out? If so, how should it be done? On the other hand, is finding the right words and presenting the facts the right way to go?



It’s easy to point out problems with someone else’s behavior.  However, we often define problems based on our own preconceived notions and sense of appropriateness.  For instance, if this person seems loud and inappropriate, is this his problem or yours?  The determination as to whether he should be in therapy depends on a number of factors.  Perhaps the most basic question to be answered is: Is he happy?  After all, isn’t happiness the goal that we all strive for?  If he’s happy despite his social awkwardness, and is likely to continue being content, does he need therapy?  If his social awkwardness causes you to feel uncomfortable, perhaps this is something that you should be dealing with. 

On the other hand, if the person is unhappy, or is having clear life issues relating to his trouble socializing, a therapist can help him to identify the causes for his unhappiness.  This might be the key to understanding how to approach him.  I don’t think that “presenting the facts” would be the best approach.  If his inappropriate behavior is the focus of the conversation, he might easily be insulted by the insinuation that there is something wrong with him.  We don’t like others telling us what’s wrong with us, and we don’t like being told that we need to change.

On the other hand, focus can be placed on his subjective feelings.  If someone close to him can talk with him about the things that are bothering him, he will likely be more open to looking at the causes.  This can achieve two objectives.  Firstly, it will allow him to identify his own issues and goals rather than having someone else tell him what he needs to work on.  It can also help him to recognize that there is in fact a problem that he will want to resolve.  This will give him a stronger incentive to address the issue. 

-Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW

  psychotherapist in private practice

 Brooklyn, NY

 author of Self-Esteem: A Primer / 718-258-5317


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