Do I have to go to Therapy?

There are about a million good reasons to go to therapy, and none of them are because you have to.  

Beginning my career at a youth mental health clinic I ran into this quite often.  I worked in a few middle schools and there would be students that were required to see me due to some disciplinary issue (This is about as effective at discipline as it is for encouraging a positive therapy experience).  I would also work with youth whose parents would make them come in to see me due to some behavioral issue and expect them to leave 'fixed'.  Our conversations would often go like this:

Me: So what brings you into Therapy?

Youth: I dunno

Me: What would you like to talk about?

Youth: I dunno

Me: Why even come in to my office today?

Youth: I dunno, I have to.

I don't know was a common response.  Since I had to record these sessions for training purposes I took to keeping track of the I don't knows.  At this point my personal record is 42 in an hour.

I would often question the school or parents as to what message they send when they make an individual attend therapy.  My argument was always that it added to a common stigma that someone goes to therapy only as a means of addressing some sort of serious disorder, or against their will due to problem behaviors.  

With the couples I see, many initially see it as a conceit that they are having "problems in their relationship".  I liken this to going to the dentist only when you know that you have a rotten tooth.  

Across the board, I experience this idea that going to therapy is an obligation.  

I can understand this certainly given the culture of self-promotion and perfection that is pervasive in America.  With our curation of identity through social media we have no room for vulnerability, only presentation.  The beauty of process and challenge in this life has been substituted for demonstrating a finished product as soon as possible.  In this world, where do you post that you are feeling anxiety about meaning in your life? Or that you have been struggling to connect with your partner? How many likes would that get?

Therapy itself is a celebration of the process, not just the finished product.  When I finish working with a client and talk with them about the most meaningful parts of our time together they often cite hard conversations we had during the middle of therapy.  Or the first time they discovered some deeper truth about their past.  This is counter-cultural.  This is life.

So do you have to go to therapy? No. It is a gift you give yourself and your family, a gift of self-discovery.  Obligation is not as powerful as intention.  Every time I have worked with a client that was engaged for their own purposes they found results.  

So the better question would be:

Do you want to learn more about yourself?

Do you want to grow as an individual or as a couple?

If so, then I think we should talk. 

Any thoughts? Please feel free to comment or email me at