Saying No To Therapy
I see my partner struggling with some issues from his past. I have suggested that he sees a counsellor because I know it will help, but he says he doesn’t need it. How can I make him see that he does?
Signed: Saying No To Therapy
Dear Saying No To Therapy,
It sounds like your desire to support your partner comes from a loving, caring place. You want him to feel better and be happier, I’m sure. You probably hurt for him or worry about him when you see him struggling with his past issues. And I love that you have suggested counselling as a supportive option for him.
But we have to remember that even if we think we know the answer to a loved one’s problem, it’s not our action to take. No matter how obvious the solution might seem, we must respect that it is our loved one’s decision how they live their life. No one likes to feel pressured or forced into something they have not chosen for themselves. One of the very first words we all learn to say as a young child is “no”. This comes so naturally to us because we are born with the desire for autonomy and control over our own choices. And sometimes, when we think that control is being taken from us, our natural instinct is to resist (without first considering if the end result is actually in our best interest or not).
There are all sorts of reasons why a person may so no to therapy for an emotional/mental health issue they are struggling with. They might just not feel ready – they may not have the time, energy or desire to unpack some of the potentially painful feelings that will come to the surface as they deal with their issue. They may not see the need – they may have developed some behaviours/attitudes that were once helpful or protective for them when the issue was happening, and they do not believe that those same things may be the root of their problem now. They may be struggling with cultural or gender biases against therapy – even if their partner is being supportive, a person may be facing down a lifetime of societal norms or stigma that is telling them that counselling is not right/needed.
They might have some trust issues – and the idea of opening up so vulnerably to a complete stranger may feel unsafe for them. Sometimes the coping mechanisms that they have learned (from when the issues were happening) have become entrenched – the person might truly enjoy some of their behaviours (even if they are not the healthiest) or perhaps the habits they created have become so much a part of their personality/identity that the person is feeling a bit confused or worried about who they will be if they stop doing those things.
Sometimes a person may have tried therapy previously and had a bad experience – maybe the counsellor was not a good fit for their needs or personality, and it left a bad taste in their mouth when they think about therapy now. Perhaps they are worrying about the cost of therapy and feel it is beyond their financial means (especially if they don’t know how many free/subsidized options are available). Or perhaps they just don’t know how therapy works and it seems daunting and a bit scary (because it’s not like it is on TV).
Sometimes people think they have to know everything about what they are feeling and why before they go to see a therapist – or they might think they already know everything that could help, and don’t see the point in talking to someone about those same things again. They might not realize their counsellor is there to help them figure out the details that they might not fully understand about themselves yet or to explain about tools that the person had no idea could help.
No matter what our good intentions might be or what the refusal reason is, we cannot force someone into therapy and expect it will end successfully. The decision to participate in counselling has to be each person’s own, no matter what mental wellbeing issue they are experiencing. And as the partner who cares, your role is to be patient and empathetic towards your partner’s perspective. You can remind your loved one of what is available to them and encourage them as much as you wish. But be careful to not take it personally or get frustrated with your partner if they don’t agree to do as you suggest. Remember that they are your equal. You are not their parent. The therapy will help the most if they decide to try it when they have an open mind and feel ready for the results that will come. Just walk beside your partner and come from the place where he is at with his decision.
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