Does Forced Therapy Ever Work?

What happens when someone is forced to go to therapy? How does it affect their prognosis? In this article, we explore the most frequent outcomes in these cases.
Does Forced Therapy Ever Work?
Sergio De Dios González

Reviewed and approved by the psychologist Sergio De Dios González.

Written by Edith Sánchez

Last update: 26 February, 2023

It’s happened to many of us. Someone close to you is in trouble and clearly needs professional help. However, they’re resisting asking for that help.  Therefore, you might think that forced therapy could be a good option. After all, it’s ‘for their own good’.

Once a decision has been made to force an individual into therapy, tricks, lies, and strong pressure are usually used so that they accept the imposed help. In some cases, they might reluctantly accept. That said,  forced therapy almost always ends in abandonment or failure shortly after its commencement. In other cases, it never even starts as the individual sees it as a form of constraint.

Forced therapy is often imposed on children. It’s also not uncommon for one partner to force the other into it. In addition, in cases where an individual is suffering from an addiction, they often don’t go to therapy of their own free will. In all cases, the result is usually the same: failure.

We think we listen, but very rarely do we listen with real understanding, true empathy. Yet listening, of this very special kind, is one of the most potent forces for change that I know .”

-Carl Rogers-

Senior man in therapy
A willing disposition is an essential element for conducting psychological therapy.

The need for psychotherapy

In reality, we’re not usually too prudent when giving our opinions on the mental health of others. For instance, frequent crying isn’t necessarily a sign of depression. Nor does nervousness always equate to an anxiety disorder. Even hallucinations can be perfectly explainable, and not associated with any mental problem.

Therefore, it’s sometimes established too quickly that an individual needs a psychologist or a psychiatrist. To be fair, some people aren’t necessarily being over-opinionated or exaggerating the situation, but just see that their friend or relation is submerged in a complicated situation from which they can’t escape. Moreover, when they try to help them, they find that it’s useless. Consequently, they come to the conclusion that they require more specialized support.

Sometimes, personal bias interferes when interpreting the behavior of another and the possible need for therapy. However, it should never be forgotten that it’s the affected individual who should be called upon to find a way out of their problems. The most others can do is suggest solutions and show them their potential benefits.

That said, there’s one special case, that of children. They depend on the decisions of their parents. Moreover, parents tend to think that they know what’s best for their children and don’t feel the need to consult them. This is a mistake. Indeed, in the case of minors, it’s extremely important that they’re willing to receive help. For this reason, forced therapy is never acceptable.

girl in psychological therapy
Forced therapy with children doesn’t usually achieve good results either. It’s always best to talk to them about the possibility of having therapy.

Why forced therapy isn’t appropriate

To put it simply, forced therapy is inappropriate because it has a high probability of failure. The main reasons are as follows:

  • Effort and involvement are required. In forced therapy, the individual doesn’t feel involved, since they’re not there of their own free will. For the same reason, they won’t make much of an effort to work with the psychologist to ensure the therapy is successful.
  • The therapeutic relationship. If an individual feels coerced to consult a psychologist, they’ll likely experience feelings of rejection toward the professional. That’s because they see them as an integral part of the imposition, even though they’re not.
  • Lack of motivation. It’s obvious that, in these conditions, there’s no motivation to advance and maintain the therapeutic process. And a demotivated individual can’t respond to the demands of this type of treatment.

In addition to the above, it’s not uncommon for a partner or family to end up avoiding their own difficulties or responsibilities by focusing all their attention on the ‘problem person’. As a matter of fact, those who want to force therapy on another often need more help than the individual themselves. 

In short, coercion only results in a bad start to a process that requires the honest involvement of the individual with the problem. Therefore, it’s advisable to propose therapy to them as a possibility and express its benefits, without forcing them to take this path. That’s unless, of course, after deep reflection, you conclude that the situation is really an emergency.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Kipper, D. J. (2015). Límites del poder familiar en las decisiones acerca de la salud de sus hijos‒directrices. Revista Bioética23, 40-50.
  • Santibáñez Fernández, P. M., Román Mella, M. F., Lucero Chenevard, C., Espinoza García, A. E., Irribarra Cáceres, D. E., & Müller Vergara, P. A. (2008). Variables inespecíficas en psicoterapia. Terapia psicológica, 26(1), 89-98.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.