On Refusal to Enter Treatment


Alan Fruzzetti, PhD (Program Director, 3East Boys Intensive Program), in the context of a webinar on “BPD in Boys and Men” gave the following advice to parents whose majority age child refuses treatment. The transcription follows:

The webinar was uploaded by McLean Hospital Borderline Personality Disorder Family and Consumer Education Initiative to Youtube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KQ0CWJ_Vn6w

At 51-56 minutes:

Q: A late adolescent (of the age of majority) child refuses intensive therapy, threaten suicide when it is suggested, arguing that no therapy has worked before, in fact, it  has only made the situation worse (AF: this makes sense it terms of substance abuse programs: they tell the patient that he or she is not trying very hard, to just kick the habit, and focus on setting boundaries and being punitive); furthermore, other people and school may not believe this is actually BPD and not just antisocial behavior.

A: This is a sad and difficult situation for a parent since nothing could be harder than seeing your child suffering and not being able to get them into treatment.

[1] You need a program to support yourselves and take care of yourselves because you deserve a life and otherwise you will not have the strength to take care of your child.

[2] Super-validate: the mental health system is way worse than imperfect [AF is talking about the situation in America!]; to be in a treatment program that is a mismatch is horrific; depending on where you live there may be very few or even no appropriate resources. Have this super-validating dialogue with your child right away and keep it up.

[3] When this foundation has been established for your relationship, look together for a treatment that would be a match for him. Make it clear that you are looking for a specific treatment and that you will not send him to a mismatched treatment. See if there is a professional near you who uses one of the three evidence-based treatments for BPD (and is willing to take male BPD seriously, if the sufferer is male). Suggest to your daughter/son that he see this person even once. Then it will be the professional’s job to persuade him to continue. You are not alone in this.

Editor’s Comment: As I mentioned, Family Connections can really offer the support and teach family members how to validate (steps one and two). In many cases step three will be hard to accomplish, but it is crucial to maintain the validating relationship.


Another perspective offered by Dr. Blaise Aguirre, MD (Medical Director, 3East Girls Intensive and Step-Down Programs) in a “Question and Answer Session,” held at Family Perspectives on Borderline Personality Disorder: The Basics and Beyond – Atlanta, GA – November 4, 2011, uploaded at  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VOggrKI6x0M


Motivation Issues are a part of getting a patient into and maintaining any treatment (compliance in taking medications in cancer, diabetes, and hypertension treatment and in other mental illnesses). This is not just a BPD issue, an illness where sufferers are predisposed to feel that the world is against them or deny that they have no problem. DBT Builds in Motivators Right from the Beginning: Have them own the problem (“where is the end of the misery in your plan,” and offer them hope that this therapy can help them deal with it; Motivational Interviewing is crucial to this process)

A Family Perspective on the Issue: “A Family Member’s Perspective on Borderline Personality Disorder and Improving Relationships,” McLean Hospital Borderline Personality Disorder Family and Consumer Education Initiative, Originally aired Monday, July 17, 2017, http://www.mcleanhospital.org/consumer-education/borderline-personality-disorder-patient-and-family-education-initiative.

Q: [4] Strategies to get sufferers to go to DBT groups, if they know something is not right, but only want to go to group or individual therapy.

A: It is very individual, so you can’t really give an answer. If you state it judgmentally, “you really should go…” that will not be effective. If you validate how difficult it is for them to go to therapy and how much you respect them for trying even though it is imperfect and then suggest another possible approach that might be more successful…. this may be more effective. You can also validate how hard it is to start with someone new and tell them all your deepest darkest secrets. Plant seeds until they are ready for it.

Perry Hoffman, the founding president of the National Education Alliance for Borderline Personality Disorder (NEA-BPD), offers the following sobering advice:

“The best way of approaching this problem from my perspective is for one to accept that you cannot get someone into treatment. Timing is important as to when someone might be “open” to hearing the idea. But the bottom line is to free families of feeling guilty, and to understand that they are not so powerful to effect that goal. Along that line, relatives need to get help and support for themselves as they watch their loved one in the throes of the illness.” (http://www.bpddemystified.com/resources/for-loved-ones/)

Editor’s Comment: While it is hard to accept Dr. Hoffman’s advice because we are in so much pain and we desperately want to change the sufferer’s behavior and mood, accepting this reality can be the first necessary step in helping both ourselves and, ultimately, our loved one.

Some language to use:

Gently tell your daughter, “You don’t deserve to suffer this way.”

Speaker on Dais in Question and Answer Session at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VOggrKI6x0M: “I’m worried [and implicitly, I could be wrong], and it’s really up to you. I just have this worry” and “You seem so unhappy [don’t say depressed]”….

For a slightly different take on the issue, see Mike Jones, “How To Encourage Someone To See A Therapist,” NAMI.org, November 20, 2017, https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/November-2017/How-to-Encourage-Someone-to-See-a-Therapist?utm_source=naminow&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=naminow