When I first began life coaching in the ‘90s, I thought that helping people related to giving advice. However, once I underwent education and training in regards to clinical practice within the field of mental, emotional, and behavioral health care, I learned otherwise.
By “advice,” I’m referring to guidance or recommendations offered with regard to prudent future action. Unsurprisingly, many people seek the services of clinicians with the intention of receiving instruction about what should, must, or ought to be done in one’s life.
As a practitioner of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), I generally steer clear of self-contradiction related to demandingness. Allow me to explain using the following hypothetical conversation:
Client X: I’m at a crossroads in my life and don’t know which path to take. From where I’m standing, there are so many options and I get overwhelmed with what I should do. I just need someone to tell me, “Go that way,” or, “You ought to do this” thing or another. You know?
Me: I wonder about what you would learn from me if I were to push upon you what I think is good, bad, right, wrong, or otherwise. For instance, if I said, “Here’s what you must do, go down this path,” or whatever, do you think you’d learn to become independent and form self-reliance?
Client X: I guess when you put it that way, no. But, it’s so hard to know what to do!
Me: I agree that many instances with which we’re presented in life are difficult, no doubt. Still, I invite you to think about how I challenge should, must, and ought-type demands. I’d behave in a hypocritical fashion by going against what I teach you if I were to simply give you advice.
Client X: That makes sense. I guess I’ll ultimately have to figure out what to do.
Me: By doing so, you can become empowered to begin handling problems on your own and through use of REBT tools.
Working with me, I find that some clients wind up disappointed by their irrational beliefs about how they imagine therapy should function. They seek out a professional with the intention of receiving definitive direction from me.
Once I clarify my role in the therapeutic relationship, I encourage clients to consider the role they play. Namely, I advocate personal responsibility and accountability.
As one can imagine in a society which heavily favors victimhood narratives, my advocacy for personal ownership isn’t always appreciated. Admittedly, I’ve lost some clients due to their rigid terms of service regarding how I apparently must behave as a psychotherapist.
Moreover, I come across the occasional person who engages my services with an inevitable outcome stemming from the rejection of help for which one seeks. I imagine the reader has some familiarity with people like this in your own life.
Colloquially, this sort of person is known as an “askhole.” One source defines this as a “person who constantly asks for your advice, yet ALWAYS does the complete opposite of what you told them to do.”
In the realm of mental health, this type of individual is referred to as a “help-rejecting complainer.” One source identifies this term as relating to “someone who directly or indirectly asks for help. A lot. Constantly. Then they refuse the help that is offered.”
The difference between an askhole and help-rejecting complainer is subtle. The former—associated with the derogatory term “asshole”—indicates an advice-seeking individual and the latter relates to a help-seeking person. This is essentially a distinction without a difference.
Because I don’t issue advice when promoting REBT in my personal or professional life, I find that help-rejecting complainers have a particularly difficult time with their inflexible beliefs about how psychotherapy ought to function.
To elucidate my point, consider the following hypothetical conversation, which is a continuation of the previous imaginary discussion with client X:
Client X: You know, even though it makes sense that I could eventually use REBT tools on my own, I’m paying you to help me. It isn’t helpful to basically hit the ball pack to my court and expect that I will learn by challenging myself. I need help!
Me: I hear you, client X. Rather than playing a proverbial game of tennis, let’s set down our rackets. We can start with your acknowledgement about how it makes sense to you that I promote the use of REBT tools in your own. Let’s think about what you’ve learned thus far. The ABC Model can be a useful technique that helps you—
Client X: Yeah, yeah! I’ve tried that and it doesn’t work for me. Most of the time, I’m not even aware of what beliefs I’m using. So, disputing whatever assumptions you think I’m using isn’t something that works for me.
Me: You may recall a couple sessions back, when I invited you to consider use of mindfulness techniques during periods of emotional flooding. I stated that this sort of grounding may give you a momentary break in the cycle of emotional dysregulation so that you can then begin to explore what self-disturbing beliefs you—
Client X: Nooooope! Nope, nope, nope! I can’t do grounding exercises, because they don’t work for me.
Me: Well, we’ve also discussed a difficult though effective tool which could be used for those who refuse to practice the ABC Model. Unconditional acceptance of yourself, others, and the world is a method that’s a type of shortcut past the disputation of irrational beliefs.
Client X: Uh uh, that’s not gonna work. I tried it once.
Me: Once? This technique isn’t effective as an attempt-and-done measure. It requires continued practice, client X.
Client X: I’m telling you it doesn’t work for me! What else you got?
Me: We could revisit tolerance and acceptance.
Client X: Not happening!
Some people may illogically and unreasonably believe that psychotherapy is something like a source with a collection of music. With this unrealistic assumption, individuals who don’t like the music can merely fast forward through options until a pleasing tune is discovered.
This is not how I approach mental health or coaching services. As such, there may come a time when some clients will need to be referred elsewhere. After all, the services I offer may not be the best fit for their demands.
I suppose there are a number of reasons help-rejecting complainers seek out treatment. Among these motives may be to prove to themselves that they don’t actually need help.
Client X may think, “Deric is a professional and doesn’t even know what he’s talking about! The tools he’s promoting are useless and I don’t need what he’s offering.”
Here, client X neglects to understand that tools which are used less are useless. Without continued exercise of REBT techniques, I’m uncertain how anyone I treat will actually get better.
Perhaps another reason a help-rejecting complainer may pursue help from me and ultimately discharge from services relates to the fact that I’m not the sort of psychotherapist who actively participates in a client’s delusions and placates the individual with feel-good phrases.
For the person who wants to bitch, whine, moan, and complain while hearing from me, “Feel your feelings,” that individual is going to self-disturb quite a bit with irrational beliefs. Venting has limited value, as do conciliatory affirmations related to faux empathy.
Still, a help-rejecting complainer may fear that once the problem is adequately addressed, support will then cease. On some level, client X may believe, “If I’m able to resolve this issue using REBT, Deric will discharge me from services.”
Here, the client’s self-disturbing belief results in fear. I don’t make it a habit to over-treat clients. Nonetheless, I don’t merely yeet a client from services once the appearance of improvement presents itself.
Another potential explanation for help-rejecting behavior relates to the intolerance of disappointment if hope for a solution doesn’t result. Client X may unhelpfully believe that if what’s desired from therapy doesn’t come to pass, the idea of disappointment is something the person supposedly can’t stand.
In this instance, I’d work with client X in regards to low frustration tolerance. Client X begins from point 1, attempts to resolve an issue, and when the inflexible demand to reach point 2 results in resetting back to point 1, client X at least has familiarity with point 1 and therefore maintains resilience in the presence of disappointment.
Yet another reason a help-rejecting complainer may seek therapeutic services rests in the notion that the learned behavior of complaining has historically resulted in an ability to access care. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, if you will.
With this scenario, I’d work with the individual at establishing more helpful patterns of behavior. Simply because a manner of conducting oneself has been employed for a long time doesn’t mean the behavior must continue being used in the future.
Lastly, a help-rejecting complainer may not realize the pattern of behavior being exhibited. Client X may be so used to complaining that awareness of the unproductive practice never crossed the individual’s mind.
To illustrate this point, consider the following hypothetical conversation, which is a continuation of the previous ongoing discussion with client X:
Me: Client X, are you aware that with each REBT technique I present to you, you’ve demonstrated a pattern of dismissing my assistance?
Client X: I mean, if what you’re proposing doesn’t work for me, what do you want me to do?
Me: As previously mentioned, far be it for me to tell you what you should, must, or ought to do. That’s up to you to decide. Nonetheless, I’ve noticed that you’ve sought services with me only to ultimately present as what is known as a “help-rejecting complainer”—someone who essentially refuses support by claiming that the help won’t actually work or by demonstrating unwillingness to try methods that may make a difference. What do you think about your pattern of behavior?
Client X: It sounds a lot like you’re shaming me!
Me: Quite the opposite. You know, I’m still not certain whether it’s fortunate or unfortunate that my job is to hold up a proverbial mirror to people and show them emotions, bodily sensations, and behavior that results from unhelpful beliefs. When seeing their reflections, some individuals layer their unfavorable beliefs by assuming that I ought to not indicate what I’m shown. However, this is precisely what my job is—not to make you feel better though to help you get better by reflecting to you what others in your life may be unwilling or unable to show.
Client X: I didn’t think of it in that way. You know what? I don’t think therapy is for me. Thank you for your time.
I purposely ended this hypothetical dialogue with client X in a less than favorable outcome. Not everyone who seeks services from me will choose to push through the discomfort of the psychotherapeutic process as a means of achieving growth.
Over the years, I’ve come to accept this fact without conditions. REBT isn’t useful for everyone, nor is my character something all people will appreciate. Sometimes, the client X’s of the world and I aren’t a proper fit.
In conclusion, help-rejecting complainers tend to needlessly experience a more challenging process when seeking services with me. When going into the therapeutic relationship with a strong conviction that one is unable to be helped, sometimes that self-fulfilling prophecy sabotages a person’s success.
While the majority of blogposts I write are intended for prospective clients, I wrote the current entry for psychotherapists who may be struggling with their beliefs about help-rejecting complainers. If you’re in Texas and would like to know more about how I may help you process this matter, I look forward to hearing from you.
If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life—helping you to sharpen your critical thinking skills, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.
As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.
At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!
Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW
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