Be Prepared: Reactions from Friends, Family, and Lovers When You Get Therapy

Sometimes the standing ovation is a long time in coming.

Sometimes those expected to be most supportive of you are just the opposite.

Sometimes those you think are on your side are actually working against you.

When even your family dog looks doubtful, then you are really in trouble!

Who am I talking about?

A few of your friends and relatives when you enter therapy; especially, if you begin to make significant progress.

The Boy Scouts of America have it right: be prepared.

Therapy still carries a stigma in some quarters. Men, in particular, tend to believe that they should be able to handle problems without a “crutch;” that talking too much about “feelings” is not the thing that a “real man” does. For these people, going to a therapist is thought to be a moral failure — a weakness of the will.

Parents, too, can be threatened by an adult offspring’s decision to enter treatment. The public stereotype of counseling is that you will be required to explore your childhood and that, before long, you will blame your parents for everything.

An exaggeration, of course.

But, the more likely that your problems do have something to do with your parents, the more likely that they might discourage your efforts to engage in treatment.

On the other hand, unsupportive parents can use your decision to seek professional help as evidence that you are “broken.” Your need of counseling can be counted as “proof” that there is something wrong with you (as opposed to themselves or to your siblings who have not sought this kind of assistance).

But what if you suffer from alcohol or drug abuse or addiction? Surely everyone would want you to overcome this, wouldn’t they?

Not so fast.

You probably have friends and family who “use and abuse” substances, as well. If, in the course of treatment, you try to cut-back or become abstinent, little approval will follow from this group. Rather, you will find yourself with as many or more offers of drinks and drugs, as well as pressure to resume the same behavior as before, lest the change be seen as an indictment of this group and the habits of its members.

Comments like, “what, do you think you are too good to have a drink with us?” or “it’s only one drink,” or “geez, it’s really great weed; you’d really love it,” or “let me buy the drink” are commonplace. This is why such relationships inevitably either break down or the person attempting to change himself “falls off the wagon” due to social pressure and criticism.

It is also a part of the reason why support groups for addiction like AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) are so important in providing the understanding, back-up, and encouragement that is lacking elsewhere.

Even if your treatment doesn’t involve alcohol or drug abuse, you may discover that parents or lovers will try to become “back seat drivers” of the ongoing discussion between you and your counselor. Some of them will wish to know all the elements of your private conversations, including the most intimate details.

This can be a problem. People frequently go to therapists because they have issues that are tremendously painful or embarrassing to confront. It can be hard enough to open up such matters with a psychologist without the knowledge that you will be debriefed at home. If your partner or parent “requires” you to talk about those delicate subjects, it can discourage you from speaking to the therapist about them, or even engaging in treatment at all.

Sometimes mom or your spouse will go so far as to suggest that your revelation of family secrets and any negative commentary (about them) to the therapist is a personal betrayal of your family bonds and obligations.

For the record, there are many times when therapeutic conversations must be absolutely confidential and free from the review of other interested parties. Your therapist knows this and will not divulge information without your clearly directed permission (unless you are dangerous to yourself or others). You should not feel compelled to make regular reports to spouses, friends, parents, or other relatives simply because they want you to.

And what if you do change, with or without the encouragement or support of the people closest to you?

They do not always welcome those changes.

If you have been docile and passive in relating to loved ones and you now become assertive and independent — not willing to “go along in order to get along” — people who used to manipulate you will be frustrated. Should you now be capable of standing up for yourself, saying “no” — refusing to be hostage to others’ disapproval or direction — you must expect that there will be “push back.”

“You’ve changed — you’re not as nice as you used to be. Therapy has made you selfish. I liked the way you were before,” and similar comments can be expected.

If they can, some of these alleged “friends” will make every effort to have you retrace your steps and resume the second-class status that has been yours historically. If, however, you withstand their efforts to restore the relationship to its previous terms, some of them will adjust to the “new you” and accept the change as a good thing for you, or a least something that is tolerable.

Others, however, will end the tie they have with you, or diminish their contact and availability to you.

Yes, you will be rejected. And, the rejection can make you wonder whether all the time, expense, and therapeutic effort were worth it. Grieving will be necessary.

But, if you can persevere, you should be able to find new friends who are healthier for you and less self-interested, while at least some of your old friends will stick around and be more enjoyable to be with.

It can be quite a disappointment to find that some of those you hoped would be most happy for you and encouraging of your growth are the least supportive.

But, as the old saying goes, “with friends like that, you don’t need any enemies.”

Opt for change and hold your ground. If you cling to your dysfunction in order to keep these pseudo-friends, you have chosen their needs over your own.

The best of your friends and family will want what is best for you.


The apparently disapproving visage of Brittany Dog is the work of Uber Phot. It is sourced from Wikimedia Commons.