Is there a place for tough love in therapy?  Or should therapy be about unconditional acceptance?

There are many schools of thought on how to conduct therapy.  A new dichotomy seems to be growing between those who favor tough love and those who focus on acceptance.

In a recent Wall Street Journal Article, clients and therapists discuss how with “tough love” therapists try to eliminate their client’s whining.  These therapists might limit what topics a client can discuss or confront a client who is “whining” about their life again.  One client says she needs this sort of therapy.  That she simply won’t change if she receives unconditional acceptance.

And this client is likely right.  Unconditional acceptance alone typically doesn’t result in change.  But, although confrontation and demanding change does, often, lead to positive life changes, it can also leave clients feeling resentful, angry at therapists and misunderstood.

The reality is that change is hard.  And therapy is often hard because it is typically an agent of change.  We want to feel better, cope better, relate to others better and make positive life changes.  Therapy can help us do that with a mixture of unconditional acceptance and a more directed focus on change.

Tough love is important, but so is understanding and acceptance.  Good therapy can’t have one without the other.

You can find more strategies to approach your life with both acceptance and a focus on change in my new book, The Stress Response and by clicking here to sign up for more of my tips and podcasts using DBT strategies to improve how you feel.

Counseling session photo available from Shutterstock.



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    Last reviewed: 18 May 2012

APA Reference
Matta, C. (2012). Tough Love Therapy. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 29, 2015, from



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