Why People Don’t Follow Good, Rational Advice

One of the more interesting facets of my practice is the otherwise well-meaning clients who don’t take my advice or suggestions – in spite of the fact that they are paying me for those very things. Over the years I’ve become pretty adept at sensing when a client “shuts down”; i.e., knows that some course of action might work, but doesn’t want to do it.

Psychotherapy and counseling refer to a process of self-change. But people who seek therapy don’t always want to change. They DO want relief from their symptoms, depression, anxiety, and other painful emotions, but at the same time they don’t want to change or challenge the fundamental defenses and/or behaviors that would allow them to – perhaps permanently – overcome their psychological maladies. According to Robert Firestone Ph.D. at psychologytoday.com, most people fear a basic change in their identity, be it positive or negative. It all boils down to the fact that people are sometimes afraid to change because they don’t wish to alter the way they think.

My experience has shown that people in therapy who get better are the ones who are willing to challenge the way they think. For example: “I’m depressed because I’m constantly doing for others. I never make time for myself.” In response, I might say, “So why not make more time for yourself?” “Because that’s selfish and bad,” they instantly respond, “My mother always taught me that. Everyone says it’s bad.” I pursue that line of thought by saying, “So why not change the way you think? Being self-interested isn’t bad. It’s a new way of thinking!” [Insert ANXIETY here.]

The inescapable point is that people are products of the way they think. That might seem obvious at first glance, but it’s easier said than done. We feel the way we do because of what and how we think. If you don’t like the way you feel, then you’ll have to change the way you think. If you don’t … well, you’re going to keep feeling bad. Though it is indeed easier said than done, it is most certainly doable. Many of my clients not only take on that challenge, but actually become happier and less anxious once they get good at it.

And forget about medication. This process is less physically invasive and much more permanent than any pill will ever be. Whether antidepressant/anti-anxiety medication helps or not – and often it does not, or brings with it unpleasant side effects – pills will never actually make you think differently. Only you can do that.

If you’re willing, a good friend or a skilled counselor can help you start the process, but in the end you and only you are sovereign over your own mind. That sovereignty is self-evident to some people, but can represent a terrifying prospect to others. If you’re in the latter category, or if you’re simply confused about the issue, you could benefit from the help of a counselor or therapist who can talk to you objectively. And, no, not because you’re “crazy”, but because the way most of us have been trained to think is crazy. In fact, given the “one-size-fits-all” nature of our educational system, many of us have never been trained to think critically at all.

That’s one of the primary reasons for the growing crisis of self-confidence, societal unity, and liberty in the world. Societies and nations are nothing more than people. And people with psychological problems can’t handle liberty. We’re told that democracy dies in darkness. My experience suggests that liberty and critical thinking perish under the constant onslaught of unearned guilt and other mental conflicts. Psychological problems develop when people hold contradictory or unsustainable ideas such as, “Someone is coming to rescue me,” or, “I shouldn’t have to be totally responsible for myself.” Sadly, many of these misguided ideas are encouraged by those who benefit from the control it brings. But if the world is to become more rational, it will take a society of people willing to think for themselves and become more rational in the process.



Follow Dr. Hurd on Facebook. Search under “Michael Hurd” (Rehoboth Beach DE). Get up-to-the-minute postings, recommended articles and links, and engage in back-and-forth discussion with Dr. Hurd on topics of interest. Also follow Dr. Hurd on Twitter at @MichaelJHurd1, Drhurd on Parler, and see drmichaelhurd on Instagram.