Rogers Behavioral Health

What to say and what not to say to someone who’s received mental health or addiction treatment

Posted on 01/18/22 08:25:am What to say what not to say to someone who is in treatment


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If a friend or loved one tells you they’ve been in treatment for mental health or addiction, you may be wondering about the best way to respond.

“It’s important for the person listening not to get out in front of the conversation with their own feelings, reactions, and assumptions,” says Sue McKenzie Dicks, vice president of healthy culture at Rogers Behavioral Health. “Lead with compassion and curiosity while focusing on being present with the person right where they’re at,” she adds.

Sue shares some common missteps and supportive things to say so your friend or loved one feels validated and understood.

What to say when a friend or loved one share they have recently been in treatment

1. “Thank you for sharing. Your willingness to do so points to your strengths.”

Rather than being quick to add your reaction, listen for how the person is feeling about their experience. Validate that seeking help was a brave thing to do. Encourage their strengths.

2. “Is there anything you want me to know about your experience?”

You want the person to feel supported and not judged, so allow them to share what their needs are rather than assuming what they may or may not need. Offer your support and let them know you’re interested in hearing whatever they want to share.

3. “Do you have any wisdom from your experience that you’d like to share?”

People who go through treatment discover a lot of things about themselves and the world around them. Asking this question is another way to approach the conversation with curiosity rather than preconceived ideas.

What to avoid saying when someone shares they’ve been in treatment

1. “I’m sorry to hear that.”

This is a common mistake people make. It’s not the best response because it’s one of sympathy rather than empathy. Sympathy conveys pity or sorrow for someone’s experience and is leading from your own perspective. Empathy conveys a sense of trying to understand and putting yourself in someone else’s shoes without judging them.

2. “That must have been hard. Are you embarrassed?”

You’re leading with your own feelings and assumptions, and if you’re wrong, the other person will feel a real disconnect from you and may feel stigmatized.

3. “Be careful about who you tell.”

While this may be said from a place of wanting to protect your friend or loved one from stigmatizing experiences, they may be feeling empowered and could want to help others in a similar situation. By saying this, you negate that your friend or loved one can make such decisions. Try asking instead, “How are you deciding who to talk to about your treatment and what you will tell them?”

Other resources

If you have received mental health or addiction treatment and are wondering if you should tell your story, Sue encourages you to check out Up to Me from WISE, a coalition of organizations and individuals whose shared goal is to eliminate stigma by building resilience, inclusion, and hope for mental health communities. Hear from Stephanie who shares her experiences of receiving treatment at Rogers to help break stigma.

If you want more advice on what to say and what not to say to someone who has a mental health condition, check out this blog.

How Rogers can help

If you or a loved one is struggling, Rogers offers compassionate, evidence-based care for children, teen, and adults nationwide. You can call 800-767-4411 for a free, confidential screening for treatment in Brown Deer, West Allis, or Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, or 888-927-2203 for treatment at one of our other locations. You can also request a confidential screening online.

If you do not feel you need treatment right away, but may be concerned, we offer online quizzes to possibly provide some relief. While these quizzes do not provide a diagnosis, it could be the first step in finding the treatment you may need. Take one of our online quizzes:

Call 800-767-4411 or go to to request a free screening.