What to do when a family won’t go into therapy

ardnaskela asks: My cousin (who I see about once a year) has an 15-year-old daughter, beginning high school. She hates her parents, and is blackmailing them. She is very clever, but uses her brain in a negative way. Her mother never finished college, and is lost. Her father is alcoholic. She doesn’t want to go to school, or see a psychologist. I know that the whole family needs help. Is there any solution? How to make her go to school again, or to make her go to the psychologist?

Hi ardnaskela –

I have a couple of questions for you, but let me start by saying that this situation is something else!!

First of all, what do you mean when you say that her mother is “lost?”  Are you referring to her not knowing what to do with her daughter, or that she’s lost in her life in general, or… I assume you don’t mean she’s actually missing from her home?

And when you say that she’s “blackmailing” her parents – is she literally demanding money from them for not saying something?  Or is she just doing what many call “emotional blackmail” – manipulating, guilt-tripping, etc?

Okay, regardless of the answers to those two, I fully agree with you that family therapy would be a great idea – and perhaps the one way to keep them from having to deal with the law in some way!  Now if both parents are willing to go into therapy, that’s great.  In order to get the daughter to go in, I’d suggest that they might try putting a bit of that manipulative pressure on her.  For example, they could refuse to let her go out over weekends unless she attends a therapy session with them every week.  Or they could even make her living in the home contingent on it.

But I worry – very often alcoholics are resistant to going into therapy too; are you sure Dad is willing?  If not, you have a tougher problem – where you know the whole family needs to go in together, but the family members are saying “I’m not the problem – he/she is!”  And nothing goes anywhere.

If this is the case, my suggestion is that your cousin go to see a therapist by herself.  It sounds like she needs to become much stronger; if she develops some higher self-esteem, she might suddenly be able to deal much better with her husband’s drinking and her daughter’s truancy and manipulation.

And last but not least, regarding the school – are there laws where your cousin lives, about kids having to go to school?  If so, I’d suggest your cousin just not worry about it; the police will be on her daughter’s case soon enough.  The only important thing is for her to not hide the truth: if someone calls and asks why her daughter isn’t at school, she can just say “She refused to go today,” and leave it at that.

Again, ardnaskela, this is a LOT.  This family has a lot of problems, and my guess is that the daughter is misbehaving in reaction to them (and if they have a dog, I promise you that poor pooch is absorbing TONS of this!).  The more her mom can get stronger and more assertive, and the sooner her dad can do something about his drinking, the better the future will be for everyone.  But this will not happen overnight.

They’re very lucky to have you.

All my best,


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