Dear Therapist:

I have a friend who has a very serious problem with her shalom bayis. Her husband started going to therapy to try to help the marriage. She has a very long list of complaints against her husband, but she admits that she also has faults and she's not innocent. When I asked her why she doesn't go to therapy she told me she can't even think of it. She had gone for a lot of therapy in her late teens/early twenties after going through a very difficult childhood. She said it was so difficult and so draining she couldn’t even think of going there again. She said she was done with therapy. What advice do you have for her and how can I be helpful to her other than just listening to her?



Unfortunately, the experience that you’re describing is not very uncommon. I have seen many clients who underwent extensive therapy when they were younger. For some, this has been helpful and they are more than willing to seek therapy later in life when necessary. For others, however, their childhood or adolescent therapeutic experiences were emotionally draining. Some people feel that they weren’t helped, leaving them with a bitter taste with regard to the therapy.

There are various reasons for negative therapeutic experiences. Some are more common for younger people, while others are more general. There are times when, frankly, the therapist is not equipped to help the person in the way that is needed. Other times, the match between therapist and client is simply not good. This can be due to personality, comfort level, therapeutic modality, or other personal or professional factors.

Younger people often feel that they are being pushed—or even forced—into therapy. This can lead to a lack of motivation. It can make them feel a lack of control or power in the relationship. It can also make them feel like there is something wrong with them. These feelings can make opening up and sharing personal information painful.

Children have different perspectives than do adolescents; the adolescent perspective of life is different from that of a young adult; and young adults see things differently than older adults. In addition, as we transition from one stage to another, our physical situation changes. We gain independence; we experience different types of relationships; our sense of power or powerlessness changes; and we often relate to others and adapt to life experiences in new ways.

For instance, let’s imagine a teenager who is placed into therapy by her parents. She gets the sense that she is a bad kid who needs to be “fixed.” The therapist consistently focuses on her problematic actions. When she reluctantly agrees to discuss these, the therapist continually tells her how these actions are not good, making her further feel that she is the problem. Despite changes that she makes to her behavior, there always seem to be more things that are wrong with her. As an adult, she has a negative mental association with therapy.

I don’t know specifically what it is about therapy that turns your friend off. If she can clearly identify what it was about her experience in therapy that was so difficult and draining, she can consciously isolate each one and determine whether that particular issue is likely to be a problem today. For any issue that she believes might be problematic, she can recognize that she likely has different tools and perspectives than she did when she was younger. She can acknowledge the differences between her circumstances as a child and her current circumstances. She can recognize that she now has the ability to choose a therapist and to discuss her concerns about the therapeutic process (something that she likely didn’t recognize or know how to approach when she was younger). She can discontinue therapy at any time and find a new therapist (again something that she may not have understood or was unable to do in the past).

I don’t know how receptive your friend may be to your intervention or to discussing her emotions and concerns. If she is willing to do this, perhaps you can help her to see that her past experience in therapy does not necessarily predict future experiences.

-Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW

  psychotherapist in private practice

  Woodmere, NY

  adjunct professor at Touro College

  Graduate School of Social Work

  author of Self-Esteem: A Primer / 516-218-4200


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