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When a Family Member Won't Go to Family Counseling


What do you do when a family member doesn’t want to go to family counseling, but you do?

“Family counseling helps every member of your family speak their mind and feel heard and emotionally validated.” That sounds great, doesn’t it? Well, it isn’t always true. I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but not every family therapy session is easy, and sometimes members of the family end up feeling angry or hurt. However, that doesn’t mean family counselings isn’t helpful or even life-changing. The trouble is when you want to go to counseling and someone in your family doesn’t want to join you.

“I’m not going.”

You want to go to family counseling. And you’re right, it can be an excellent place to resolve common family issues. Family counseling can be crucial because it allows members of the family unit to hear one another’s perspectives. When the family goes to treatment, the therapist gets to see all sides of the story. As a family member, it gives you insight into how each member of your family feels, and changes can happen to strengthen those relationships. Being in counseling helps develop ways to effectively communicate for years to come. But what do you do if your family member refuses to go to counseling?

Your needs for resolution are real.

What do children do when they can’t resolve a problem in school with a classmate? They ask a teacher for help. Think of the family counselor as playing the same role, only in a therapy session. A family therapist mediates problems between members of the family. And your need for counseling is real and valid. Wanting family counseling is wise when you can’t solve your conflicts with your parents, children or siblings. Conflict arises in even the greatest, closest families. No matter what your reason is for wanting to pursue family counseling, it’s an excellent way to resolve issues you’re having in your family. But when someone in your family doesn’t want to join you, it’s frustrating. What do you do?

Focus on what you can do.

Feeling powerless is painful, however, you can’t “make” anyone do something they don’t want to do. If they refuse to attend counseling, let them know how much it would help you if they agreed to go. If your plea isn’t heard, understand it does not invalidate your desire to pursue therapy. You want to communicate with your family, and that shows emotional insight and dedication to your mental health, regardless of what your family’s actions are.

Find out why they don’t want to go.

If a family member refuses to attend counseling, it might help you to find out why they don’t want to go. Many people make excuses as to why they can’t or won’t go. So what do you do when a family member doesn’t want to go to therapy? Listen to their reasons. They might say they’re too busy or that they have other more important things to do. Many therapists open up their schedules into evening hours, and especially now that therapy is available online, you can accommodate their schedules.

Hear them out.

Even if their reason doesn’t appear valid, hear them. Ask questions and validate their concerns, but express your needs as well. Some people do n’t realize you want to go to counseling out of love. They view it as a punishment or a place for you to tell them what they’re doing wrong. But that’s not why you want to go. The best reason to go to counseling is that you want to work something out with your family; they may see it as a personal attack and get afraid to go, and you can clear up that assumption.

You have the right to get mad

There is no “wrong” way to feel. You have the right to be upset if your family member won’t go to counseling. Your intention is to improve your relationships with your family, and if they absolutely refuse to go, a good alternate option is for you to pursue individual therapy. That way, you can talk about the issues within your family and how their refusal to attend therapy made you feel. Individual therapy is not a direct replacement for family counseling, but it can help you navigate how to handle family problems on a personal level.

You need to take care of yourself.

Even if you are never able to get your family to attend family counseling with you, be incredibly proud of yourself. You made the step to get help and improve the relationships with your family. Regardless of what they will or will not do, you can take ownership over your life and your choices regarding your mental health. You deserve to find the best way to navigate the issues in the family. Remember, you must take care of yourself. Rather than suffer, you can see a therapist and talk about your problems. They can help you find ways to heal. Hopefully, your family (even some members, if not all) will listen and go to counseling, but if they don’t go, you tried hard to help them and improve your relationshipsand that’s what matters.

Getty image by Vasyl Dolmatov.