Just stop it

An article in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal says that people nowadays whine too much and that some therapists are adopting new ‘tough love’ strategies that tells them to cut it out.

Moms, and bosses, are good at this. Some therapists are refusing to let clients complain endlessly, as well—offering up Tough Love in place of the nurturing gaze and the question “How does that make you feel?”

They’re setting time limits on how long a client can stay on certain topics and declaring some topics off-limits altogether.

Douglas Maxwell, a licensed psychoanalyst in Manhattan and president of the National Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis, says constant complaining is often a “resistance,” and the person whining is often unaware of it.

With a client who gripes incessantly about a problem without making progress, he will say: “Stop. No more complaints. I don’t want to hear about this one more day. You must talk about something else.”

Actually, Bob Newhart recommended this same kind of therapy many years ago.


  1. sithrazer says

    Wow. Suddenly I’m glad I’ve never gone to a therapist.

    I could have sworn a therapists job was to listen to issues of the patient and to help the patient resolve said issues. (oversimplifying, I’m sure)

    Everyone is different, and I could see some just needing a neutral/friendly person who will listen without judging. However, I can’t help but think that the vast majority of people going to see a therapist are doing so because they need outside help to resolve their issues. If therapists haven’t been doing part 2 then I think they have been doing it wrong, and to simply plug their ears to issues is to pull the plug on the entire operation.

    I do understand though, redirecting a patient from a topic if progress simply isn’t being made in order to come back to it at a later date when there is perhaps progress to be made.

  2. amhovgaard says

    Telling people to “just stop it” is not very helpful. What a good therapist will do when someone seems to be “stuck” in whining-mode is to take a step back and look at the conversation/interaction they’ve been having, and help the patient do the same: try to get them to think about why they keep complaining about the same things over and over again, if it seems to be helping them, and if there are any other options/ways of looking at their situation.

  3. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    Oh my goodness, we have some delicate flowers here. The therapists aren’t berating the patients (did you read the article?). They’re just putting an abrupt stop to bullshit that’s counterproductive. Yes, sometimes one needs a bracing, “This is useless and not helping. We’re going to move on.”

  4. Cipher, OM, MQ says

    Cos of this guy.

    Douglas Maxwell, a licensed psychoanalyst in Manhattan and president of the National Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis, says constant complaining is often a “resistance,” and the person whining is often unaware of it.

  5. says

    They’re not psychoanalysts. Why did you think that?

    I’m guessing most of the psychotherapists quoted (Christina Steinorth, Julie Hanks & Fran Walfish) are not psychoanalysts but I get a vibe from Douglas Maxwell, “a licensed psychoanalyst in Manhattan and president of the National Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis”, that he might have at least a passing acquaintance with psychoanalysis.

  6. says

    One of the reasons I adore my therapist is that when I’m stuck in a rut of dithering about something, she’ll ask a pointed question that requires me to snap out of my navel gazing. It’s not rocket science.

    The point of seeing a therapist is to get the input of someone who sees you and your situation from an outside view, someone with the perspective to see when you’re being self indulgent or unproductive. If people don’t want to hear that what they’re doing isn’t working, why bother going to therapy?

  7. F says

    This is known as “therapy”.

    If anyone just wants a target to whine at for a hundred bucks an hour, my calendar is wide open.

  8. says

    An article in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal says that people nowadays whine too much

    The sort of incisive analysis I’d expect from a paper that thinks coups are swell and Honduras should be ruled by a vicious neoliberal oligarchy. You stop whining, too, resistance movements!

  9. NuMad says

    (did you read the article?)

    Well, this is an article that precedes “[r]aise their self-awareness without using accusatory or sarcastic language” with the header “Crybabies, Be Gone!”

    So I fear that it might have prioritized relishing the excuse to have a chuckle about “whiners” with the weight of the authority of the therapists it cites rather over communicating.

  10. Mano Singham says

    That’s good to hear. I read Fromm voraciously when I was younger and loved his whole attitude to life. It is a pity that he does not seem to be as well known now.

  11. satan augustine says

    Wow, what a brainless, heartless way to make people who feel helpless and hopeless even more helpless and hopeless, abandoned even. It’s pretty obvious that the psychotherapists, not the clients, are the people who are benefiting from this “tough love” approach. From the article:

    It brings down the mood of everyone within earshot.

    What?! The therapist’s mood is not the client’s problem. If the therapist’s mood is being “brought down,” then that’s obviously a boundary issue with the therapist, not the client. A good psychotherapist is able to distance herself from a client’s mood to the degree that it doesn’t affect their own mood. A therapist who can’t keep such a boundary is simply someone who has no business being a therapist.

    Perhaps even worse is this comment from a therapist:

    …Julie Hanks, a licensed clinical social worker who has a therapy clinic in Salt Lake City. “I want them to ask themselves, ‘Would I want to hang out with this person?'”

    She would seriously say that to a client? Oftentimes people see a therapist because they don’t have anyone else to talk to about their problems. It’s naive and ignorant to assume that because a client is complaining to their therapist that this complaining is something they do in their social lives. A therapist is not “hanging out” with their client, but they are being paid to do their job. They just don’t want to be bothered with a client who isn’t improving, which is naive, insensitive, and simply ignorant to apply to all patients (and not improving is much worse for the client than for the therapist). Would they tell someone with cancer to stop whining about it? It’s certainly likely to be a “pet topic” for someone with cancer and something they’re likely to bring up five times (or more) in a row. As someone who personally suffers from chronic mild, but still clinical, depression and recurrent major depression, I have no use for a therapist who loses patience with me not improving. They could chalk it up to whining in order to make themselves feel better about their lack of effectiveness as a therapist, their being fed up with listening to a client “whining” but not improving, or they could be smart and realize that a chronic, incurable illness is exactly that and that their own feelings of annoyance or personal inadequacy are getting in the way of their properly treating their client. That’s they therapist’s problem, not the client’s! This holds true not only for depression, but certainly other life issues as well -- sometimes there is nothing more that can be done than to just listen to someone, offer possible insights, and be there for a client, because sometimes a client has no other outlet for talking about their problems. Some problems are genuinely intractable and, as I mentioned before, this situation is much, much worse for the client than the therapist. If you have no one else to talk to and even your therapist shuts you down, then what do you do?

    Certainly clients need to be challenged at times, but in this article the therapists just come across as selfish and uncaring and who is going to pay a therapist for that?

    Even therapists say this conversation sometimes ends with the client walking out.

    Well good for the client in such a situation. It shows they have self respect and that they aren’t going to put up with bullying from the therapist. What about the poor patients who have zero capacity for self respect? They may not know any better and stay in a “therapeutic” relationship with a therapist who actually does more harm than good.

  12. ash says

    I think there is way too much variation in type and degree of mental illness to make such broad generalizations. However I have a relative that has been going to therapy solo and group for over 20 years. I think there is such a thing as a culture of therapy that makes your illness front and center of what you think about yourself and who you think you are

  13. says

    Some therapists I have seen have been very good at pushing me to stop complaining about my past and focus on how I can change myself and/or my circumstance in the future. This has the effect of limiting the amount of time I was allowed to wallow in their presence. They get paid for the purpose of helping me either move past or find some way to deal with my personal shit.

    I had a therapist who listened to me for 20 minutes and made a decision that there was only one way I could deal with a particular issue. He didn’t ask me if I had tried that approach before (I had, with very negative results) he just made up his mind. A second visit didn’t happen. This is the other side of a negative patient/therapist relationship -- not listening enough.

    Newhart’s advice is sopt on. “Stop it” is the basic premise behind most cognitive based therapies. The details of exactly ‘how’ to stop it can take years and many drugs.

  14. amhovgaard says

    If your patient is depressed, then part of your job as a therapist is to be someone they can “act depressed” around without worrying about bringing you down. One of the main reasons why depressed people isolate themselves socially is because they know their mood affects others negatively, and hiding how they feel takes energy they don’t really have.

    Another part of the job is figuring out when and how to challenge your patient so that it helps them move forward instead of just making them feel rejected.

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