17 Excuses People Give to Avoid Going to Talk Therapy (and Why They Should Really Rethink Them)

[photo credit: flickr user Jack Lyons]

If you’ve been reading the Invisible Scar articles for some time, you know that we are proponents of therapy. We don’t espouse a specific psychological approach nor do we care whether you choose a psychologist, psychiatrist, therapist, or counselor.

We do care about Invisible Scar readers, though, and so we repeat (often) the phrase please seek professional counseling.

Professional counseling is crucial for an adult survivor of emotional child abuse.

Yes, you can read books about emotional child abuse and healing (we highly recommend doing so), but you’re going to reach a point where you need to vent, to cry your heart out, to shout and rage in a safe environment, and to have someone there who can help you figure out how to navigate through the hurt and towards healing.

But you will find it almost impossible to do that solely on your own because you were raised by people who didn’t teach you those skills and who kept you in emotional captivity.

That is not your fault.

That is not your fault.

Once more: That is not your fault.

You didn’t choose to be abused as a child… but now, as an adult, you get to choose to get professional help and to learn new skills and behaviors needed for an emotionally healthy life.

Reasons, Excuses, and Misconceptions About Talk Therapy

Every day, we receive emails—some short as telegrams; others, sprawling tomes. Some readers seek very specific answers to their very specific questions, and we always urge those senders (and our readers) to seek professional help.

Judging by some of the responses to our recommendation of professional counseling, we thought to write a post tackling the different reasons/excuses/misconceptions people have regarding therapy.

1. I don’t know a good therapist and wouldn’t know where to get one

A few good places to start looking for a therapist are…

You can also ask your friends for recommendations, check out the blogs of your local therapists, etc.

Remember that you are not signing an agreement in blood and promising your firstborn to the mental health professional.

In other words, you can interview a few therapists until you find the one that connects with you. And you can always choose a new one later down the road.

2. A good therapist costs too much money

The fees associated with going to therapy are often high, but you can try the following options.

  • Some therapists use a sliding scale that depends on their clients’ income.
  • You can see whether your workplace offers free counseling or your insurance pays for it.
  • Local charities and churches often also have therapists who use their skills as a ministry. (Do check to see whether the church counselor has proper training, certification, and an understanding of emotional child abuse. Sometimes, a church “counselor” is only a sympathetic ear only. The intention might come from a good place, but you’ll want professional help and not one with a bias towards reunification with the biological parents.)

For more ideas about affordable therapy, check out the very helpful “How to Find Someone to Talk to When You Can’t Afford It” article at Lifehacker.

3. I don’t need a therapist

Are you the adult survivor of emotional child abuse? The effects of childhood abuse on adults are…

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Cognitive distortions (e.g., “highly fearful and overestimate danger and adversity in your current environment”)
  • Emotional distress (e.g., depression, anxiety, and anger)
  • Anxiety, disorders, panic disorders, phobias, and obsessive-compulsive order
  • Chronic irritability, rage, and difficulties expressing anger constructively
  • Impaired sense of self
  • Avoidance (e.g., disassociation, amnesia for abuse-related events)
  • Interpersonal problems
  • Physical health problems

In reading that list, you may relate to some effects and know you need help. Perhaps something within you is whispering (or perhaps even shouting) that you need to find some sort of livable peace, some direction, some guidance in your journey.

You didn’t just stumble onto The Invisible Scar for no reason. Something or someone brought you here.

Moreover, if you’ve found yourself wanting to share your story in the comments or via the contact form, you clearly do want someone to hear your story, to validate what you’ve endured, to make you feel not so crazy and lost and hurt by what has happened and to feel hopeful for the future.

You may long for that personal touch, that face-to-face interaction, and that’s all very normal and healthy and, if anything, a good sign that you want to heal.

4. All I need is [____________]

The healing journey often requires more than just one tool in your toolbox. Adult survivors need a variety of coping skills and healing approaches to help them grow as a person.

For example, an adult survivor will need to learn to identify different emotions (because s/he was taught that only a couple were permissible), how to vocalize his/her feelings and thoughts without fear of being reprimanded, how to identify “safe” people for relationships, how to avoid repeating behaviors that abusive parents may have taught them, how to conquer the little critic deep within them, how to carry the weight of an abusive childhood—you get the point. An adult survivor needs to figure all this out.

Without a guide, be it a counselor or psychiatrist, an adult survivor might overreach by trying to learn everything at once and expecting immediate results. Or not understand how to navigate through that morass of behaviors.

It’s a lot to take in. Professional counseling can help.

5. I don’t want to complain

Complaining is “expressing dissatisfaction or annoyance about a state of affairs or event” or “expressing a grievance,” according to Merriam-Webster.

So, what’s so wrong about complaining? Why wouldn’t an adult survivor complain about the state of affairs? The adult survivor has been abused throughout his/her childhood and is now trying to make sense of it all. Of course grievances will be stated.

Now, chronic complaining sucks the life out of you (and those who have to listen to it constantly).  Chronic complaining means you’re only seeing the negative in the world and calling dark clouds of gloom over people who are in contact with you.  Being a complainer is not something that is quirky or just a personality trait; it can be changed.

But complaining (in moderation) to your mental health practitioner can be a good thing. You need to find a safe place for your venting, and in time, learn to cope with the subject of your vents and the skills to be less complaining.

6. I don’t have time

Sure you do!

If you have time to watch something on TV, read a book, meet a friend, play an instrument, go out to dinner, etc., you have time to go to therapy.

You just need to make it a priority. You need to make your emotional well-being a priority.

Adult survivors, as children, always focused first on their parents—meeting their parents’ emotional needs, catering to their parents’ whims, obeying every single mandate without question, always thinking about their parents first.

No more. Adult survivors need to place their own well-being now far high on their list of priorities. They are so worth it.

You are worth it.

7. I’d feel guilty talking about other people

You’ll be talking to one person, a licensed mental health professional, about them, and this person won’t be able to dish about what you’ve said. You’re not spreading discontent, gossip, or slander in your social circle or neighborhood. This isn’t about them.

Moreover, you’re really talking about yourself.

About your story.

About what happened to you.

About how you handled (or didn’t handle or internalized) situations and life-changing events.

About how you see relationships.

About your worth or sense of worthlessness.

The sessions will be not just about other people but about you. And that’s the focus for your therapy: your emotional well-being.

You won’t hurt anyone’s feelings during your session nor will you break any rule about gossiping. In a safe environment, with the right mental health professional, you can talk about others without fear or repercussions.

8. Only weak people go to therapy

You have been, in a sense, weakened or at least deprived of essential skills and peace of mind by enduring an abusive childhood. That’s not your fault. It’s like blaming someone for being born without a limb; you just had no say in that.

Now that you know that, you have every right (and even, in a sense, an obligation to yourself) to get fitted with the skills and peace of mind to live a healthy happy life.

Virtually anybody can benefit from these services, and they are not limited to any stereotype. You name it—presidents, celebrities, macho men, kindly grandparents, marriage therapists, happiness experts, Olympic athletes—anyone can benefit from the support and different perspective of a helping professional. It’s not limited to the pop-culture stereotypes of crazy people or damaged people.” (Brad Waters, LCSW, “10 Stereotypes of Mental Health Professionals“)

Not going to therapy is like a person with a physical ailment never getting help. “Oh, I was born near-sighted, I just have to be tough and take it.”

No, you can actually get help. It’s all right… It takes a strong person to admit s/he needs help.

9. I’m over it

Now, this might be true. However, if you are reading posts on The Invisible Scar, you may have some unresolved emotions or issues that you need to discuss.

And that’s all right. Adult survivors of emotional child abuse have endured the worst kind of emotional child abuse. It takes time to heal. Therapy won’t magically patch up all the holes that the abuse has created, but you’ll learn in time to craft an emotionally healthier life.

Adult survivors usually go to therapy for a long while, then, as they grow stronger and more emotionally healthy, visit their therapists as needed. Some survivors go in every two months or so as a “check in” to make sure they’re still on the right path.

10. I don’t want anyone to know that I go to therapy

No one needs to know. You don’t need to share everything with everyone.

That said, you may be surprised to find out that more people go to therapy than you think. Should you choose in time to share this information with your inner circle, you may find a friend saying s/he has also gone to talk therapy.

More and more people in the public eye are sharing their stories of depression, emotional child abuse, anxieties, and other issues because everyone struggles with something. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. You didn’t cause your emotional child abuse. It’s not your fault.

But if you don’t feel comfortable telling friends that you go to therapy, don’t tell them. You’re not required to share that information with people you don’t feel comfortable with.

11. I’ll feel judged

Say someone does find out that an adult survivor attends therapy. What then? He may fear that they will judge him.

People might judge him. But then again, people tend to judge others based on their hair color, weight, body shape, voice, looks, education, music choices, fashion choices… In other words, critical people will always find reasons to judge others.

Ignore them. Shake it off.

A big step is to not think about what “they” will say. Think about what you need to do to get emotionally healthy. Think about what a tremendous gift you are giving yourself by attending therapy.

“Stigma connected to getting help for psychological or behavioral concerns used to be a strong deterrent for people,” states the American Psychological in its article Psychotherapy: Myth vs Reality. “But getting help is now seen as a sign of resourcefulness.”

12. I want to be sure it works

Therapy isn’t magical. No magic spell exists to immediately “fix” the problem.

However, if you dedicate yourself to going to the right therapist and you are honest and open in your sessions, you will most likely find yourself getting better.

“Talking can actually do a lot of good. Discussing something with someone who cares about you and who is not judgmental helps relieve the emotional pressure caused by keeping our thoughts and feelings to ourselves. But counseling involves much more than just talking. Counseling provides a way for us to understand who we are and how we relate to the world around us. In counseling we focus our attention on aspects of our experience that we may have been previously unaware of. This provides new ways of looking at our problems and this often gives us new ways to handle these problems.” (Gustavus Augustus College,The Top 10 Reasons People Avoid Counseling“)

13. I don’t want to even think about my problems

But here you are at The Invisible Scar. Clearly, you are searching for understanding, for healing. (And that’s a good thing!)

14. I don’t want to feel bad about myself or my life

A good therapist will not set out to make you feel bad.

A good therapist should be open and willing to understand your concerns. If your counselor doesn’t take your concerns seriously or is unwilling to accept feedback, then it’s probably in your best interest to consult with another therapist about it.” (Noah Rubenstein, “50 Warning Signs of Questionable Therapy and Counseling)

15. No one will understand me

A good therapist wants to understand and help her patient. (Helping others is one reason therapists become therapists, after all.) And chances are high that a therapist will be disposed to believe the patient.

However, should an adult survivor find himself with a therapist who doesn’t believe him—even though he is being open and honest in what has happened—the adult survivor should consider talking to a different therapist.

Sometimes, that happens… but don’t let the possibility of that happening deter you from seeking therapy.

16. My last therapist was awful

Some therapists are wonderful; some are wretched. Perhaps you didn’t do your homework and ended up with a therapist who ended up not being the right fit for your needs. Or maybe you did do your homework and still your therapist was a walking disaster.

I get a lot of emails and comments about people telling me that I am wrong, wrong, wrong, in recommending therapy. “No one can help me! I tried X many therapists and they didn’t work for me!” or “I had a bad therapist! I am never trying therapy again!” or “Therapists suck! They’re all awful.”

Let’s be real, friends. Not every therapist provides stellar counseling. But some do. A heckuva lot of them do. So, stay vigilant, stay persistent, and find that therapist that will click with you.

And then be patient with your therapist. They can only offer counseling on what you tell them, so be open and honest with your therapist. Give the relationship some time to work. If after several sessions, you feel disheartened and lost and like you’ve gotten worse … then, by all means, look for a new therapist.

Crappy therapy happens. But don’t give up. Find a new counselor. Give therapy another shot.

17. I can’t see the point of going

The benefits of therapy are manifold. People who attend talk therapy usually gain…

  • Long-lasting change
  • The feeling of being understood
  • Better health due to facing repressed emotions
  • The skills needed to handle future flashbacks or setbacks
  • A greater ability to express his/her thoughts
  • A greater sense of self-worth
  • A better understanding of who s/he is
  • A better understanding of other people
  • Greater empathy
  • Deeper relationships
  • Rewired brain
  • Better skill set for handling pain, sorrow, and frustration
  • Reduced stress
  • Better boundary-setting

And much more.

* * *

Need more convincing that therapy isn’t just for crazy, weak oddballs? Check out this helpful article “Myths About Therapy” by the founder of GoodTherapy.org, Noah Rubenstein.

“A huge benefit of talk therapy is that its effects are long-lasting,” writes Alice G. Walton in her Forbes article 11 Intriguing Reasons to Give Talk Therapy a Try. “This is because you’re not only working through stuff, but you’re also developing the tools to help you deal with future stuff.”

Go for it. You’re worth it.

Originally published in June 2015. Updated article in May 2019.


Veronica Jarski is founder and managing editor of The Invisible Scar. She has extensive editorial experience and a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Her work has been featured on myriad publications. She also put together this ebook “What Really Happened,” a collection of expanded already published articles here in one easy-to-read PDF.

How to Handle Your Critical Inner Voice: An Interview with Psychologist Lisa Firestone

lisa-firestone2At The Invisible Scar, we’ve received myriad emails and comments regarding how to deal with one’s harsh inner voice, which hounds adult survivors of emotional child abuse.

To answer questions from readers, we turned to Dr. Lisa Firestone for her professional insight.

Lisa works as the director of Research and Education at The Glendon Association and a senior editor at PsychAlive.org. She has published numerous professional articles, and most recently was the co-author of Sex and Love in Intimate Relationships (APA Books, 2006), Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice (New Harbinger, 2002), and Creating a Life of Meaning and Compassion: The Wisdom of Psychotherapy (APA Books, 2003).

1. What’s the correlation between emotional child abuse and the critical inner voice?

The critical inner voice is not only correlated with emotional abuse, it is also correlated with, and is the result of all forms of child abuse, neglect, and other traumatic events we experienced in our childhood. We treat ourselves in much the same way we were treated [or mistreated] as children. The critical inner voice controls the ways in which we mistreat ourselves as well as the negative stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, about other people, and about the world.

In Compassionate Child-Rearing (1990), Robert Firestone (my father) described how “all children, to some extent, suffer trauma and rejection during their formative years. They incorporate an internal parent in the form of a destructive thought process or ‘voice’ and carry it with them throughout life, restricting, limiting, and punishing themselves.”

Another source of the critical inner voice can be found in some of the lessons we learned from our parents about their defensive ways of coping with life—their negative prescriptions for living. The critical inner voice also reflects many of the negative attitudes our parents held toward themselves, which we internalized and took on as part of our negative self-image.

2. What are the long-term effects of emotional child abuse on one’s inner voice?

One particularly damaging long-term effect of child abuse on a person’s critical inner voice is that it contributes to the formation of the negative self-image and feelings of low self-esteem that many survivors of child abuse still struggle with. All forms of child abuse, have the effect of creating a sense of being bad in children. Yet children typically blame themselves for the emotional pain they are in rather than seeing weaknesses or shortcomings in their parents. Unfortunately, as adults, many of us continue to view ourselves, often on an unconscious level, as bad or undeserving of love.

Emotional, physical, and sexual child abuse, and neglect have many other long-term debilitating effects. According to Robert Firestone (Compassionate Child Rearing), these experiences impact one’s “personal relationships, lead to a condition of general unhappiness, cause pain and anxiety in one’s sexual life and interfere with and stifle development of career and vocational pursuits.”

The severity of these effects are proportional to the cumulative number of “Aversive Childhood Experiences”[ACEs] that people encounter during their formative years, the age at which the abuses occurred and the duration of the abuse. In general, the more abuse children suffer early in life, the more they will be subject to voice attacks as adults, and the more their behavior will be under the control of the critical inner voice.

3. How can an adult survivor of emotional child abuse overcome that critical inner voice?

First, recognize that the emotional pain you feel is valid. The experiences you had in growing up made it necessary for you to develop defenses, including the critical inner voice, and these defenses and voices now limit you in pursuing your goals in life. Understanding this important point can help you develop compassion for yourself, which is a strong antidote to the critical inner voice. The more you strengthen your real self and develop feeling for yourself, the weaker the inner voice will become and the less influence it will have over your life.

Second, read Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice and work through the journaling exercises in the chapters related to the areas that you are struggling with. These exercises are designed to increase your awareness of the inner voice, to understand its origins, and to challenge its control over your life. In addition, there are many articles and blogs available on www.psychalive.com that can empower you in overcoming this destructive thought process.

Third, if you believe that you could benefit from additional help, you may want to consider psychotherapy or you might want to use therapy as a tool for further personal development. You could look for a psychotherapist who is familiar with the critical inner voice and who applies the techniques of Voice Therapy, a cognitive/affective/behavioral method for accessing, identifying, and challenging the voice, in his or her practice.

Fourth, become more aware of the times you start attacking yourself in your mind. One way is to be aware of changes in your mood. Did your mood slip from optimistic to pessimistic in the last few days? Did you wake up this morning in a bad mood? Think about what you might be telling yourself, in terms of the critical inner voice, that is negative and affecting your mood.

Become more aware of when you start to attack yourself. It is also important to recognize the events, people, and experiences that trigger your self-attacks. Whenever you notice that you’re attacking yourself, simply take note of the fact, “Oh, I’m attacking myself again.” Recognize the attack for what it is, part of a destructive thinking process that is opposed to your best interests and your well-being. You may not even need to identify the specific voices at that point to return to your own point of view and a better mood

Most important, strive to maintain an accepting, compassionate, and loving attitude toward yourself in all the situations you encounter in your everyday life. Loving kindness mediation has been shown to be effective in helping people develop more self-compassion.

4. Most adult survivors of emotional child abuse have a tendency to bash themselves all the time… What are some steps they can follow to create a kinder inner voice (if that’s possible)?

Positive self-affirmations are a form of self-parenting, they are still a part of how we evaluate or judge ourselves. It’s impossible to effectively replace the critical inner voice with a “kinder inner voice” if you try to tell yourself positive things about yourself in this way.

Positive self-affirmations are very different from developing feelings of compassion for yourself. In Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice, we emphasized this crucial point. Self-parenting, whether it consists of soothing ourselves with positive self-affirmations or punishing ourselves with negative self-statements, is part of a defense that we developed early in life to compensate for what was missing in our environment. “People tend to parent themselves as they were parented, both soothing and punishing themselves in a manner similar to the way their parents soothed and punished them.”

It is very important for you to develop compassionate feelings or attitudes toward yourself. Strive to adopt Dan Siegel’s attitude of COAL, that is, be Curious, Open, Accepting and Loving toward yourself. Think of it this way, you would probably never treat a close friend the way you often treat yourself when you are under the influence of the voice. Learn to befriend yourself, be as kind to yourself as you would be toward your friend.

Dispense with all judgments or evaluations of yourself and practice being kinder to yourself on an emotional level. Even in situations where your critical inner voice accuses you of something that has some basis in reality, don’t castigate yourself for a mistake you made or for something you disapprove of in yourself.

* * *

Thanks, Lisa, for taking the time to answer questions for The Invisible Scar.