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Five Tips for Getting People to Accept Help

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She won’t accept help.
He doesn’t want my help.

Help wanted sign (Photo credit: andjohan)

We’ve all had it happen.  Whether you’re a helping professional or you have a friend or family member with a really big problem, often when we most want to help someone, the other person rejects our offer.

1) Ask yourself if the person really needs the help you’re offering, or if your desire to help the person is making you see her situation as different than it is.  Sometimes our own need to help can make us see events in other peoples’ lives as problems when they aren’t issues for that person. The help we want the person to accept is not always the help they need. Reassess their need to accept help in light of this.

2) Get to know the person.  Ask him how he’s doing every time you see him.  Show interest in the things he’s talking about, and ask open ended questions to get him to tell you more.  If there is a real problem, and you have the ability to help, it may take a long time to build enough trust that some people will accept help.

3) Tie what the person needs to what the person wants.  She needs to get clean from crack cocaine, but what she wants is to get a job.  For instance: “Vocational Rehab can accept you if you do some outpatient substance abuse groups.  Let’s get started with that,” or something similar.  Sometimes its important that both happen at the same time, as frustration can make a person give up or back slide.

Offer to work on what the other person wants to work on, but point out how ‘the big problem’, whatever it is, is getting in the way, and help the other person build a bridge between what they want and what needs to happen., and you are more likely to get the other person to accept help.

4) Give him room to do it his way.  You might think that the best way for him to handle his addiction is to go to AA meetings, but he thinks that writing in his journal every day is a better way to keep on the straight and narrow.  Show interest in his solution when you see him and ask him how it’s working for him.  If it is, add it to your repertoire of possible solutions for people.  If it’s not, offer him another path. He is more likely to accept help from you, if you accept that he is an individual and that a personalized solution might work better for him. Provide feedback, not condemnation.

5) Accept your limitations.  Perhaps the person is not yet ready to accept help and you need to spend more time getting to know him. It is also possible that you are the wrong person to help him, in which case you should refer him to someone else.  In this type of work, it’s very important to be able to “let go and let God”.  It is not your fault if you have done what you could and something bad still happens to someone you’re helping.

The key in this situation is to balance your need to help and the person’s need for help.  This is a prime area where helpers find themselves crossing boundaries and getting into trouble. Be careful that you are providing the person with the tools to help herself, not just doing the work for her, and never “give up” on a person emotionally, even if you find you are not able to help.

My first year as a case manager, many years ago, someone gave me a very valuable piece of advice: Never work harder than the person you’re helping. This doesn’t mean to give up if a person appears to be not moving toward their goal (or yours), but rather to not do the work for them.

Deflect it back to them. Offer to listen, but assure the other that the answer is within their grasp. Maintain your boundaries and don’t let the other person’s need for help jeopardize your own health or safety. Call in reinforcements if needed.

And sooner or later, most of the time, the person you are trying to help will accept help. Maybe just a little at first, and almost certainly with numerous setbacks, but you will see them move toward their goal, and that knot of worry at your center will begin, slowly, to unclench.


  • 5 Rules for Helping and Being Helped (
  • Acceptance is the Answer (
  • Helping isn’t enough. (
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