The Dangerous “Why?” Question

The “why” question is brought up a great deal in psychotherapy. “Why do I procrastinate?”, “Why didn’t my mother love me?”, or “Why doesn’t my husband listen to me?” These common questions are dangerous because they give the appearance that you are “working” in therapy when actually no real progress is being made. Trying to understand something you are struggling to accept is fine, but fixing the problem will take much more than understanding it’s origin or cause. In therapy, answering the question of why your mother doesn’t love you can take years of couch time. And, in the end, you still haven’t fixed the problem that you feel unloved and are in need of creating caring relationships in your life.

The danger of the why question is that it is a passive, not active, question. It allows you to stay stuck, pondering and theorizing, without making the change necessary to get out of the hole in which you are stuck. Why questions can also put you in a victim position, subtly admitting that you accept your fate and injustice. “Why do you beat me?”, is a question that suggests tolerance for abuse. Why questions often regurgitate what isn’t working and allow for an intellectual reexamination of the cause of the trouble. In this way, asking “why?” can be an invitation for a fight. The danger of a why question is that it doesn’t lead to a solution!

Asking any of the other possible questions will increase the odds of you finding a way to solve your dilemma. Who do I need to speak with? What do I need to say? When can I make this happen? Where can I find the support I need? How can I build the skills I require? These are solution focused questions that will take you to action and change. They require much more effort than the passive and change resistant “why” question.

It is not always wise to insist on knowing the “why’s”. If you want to change, ask any of the other five questions and you will see the steps necessary to make movement. I often tell people, hanging out at the Y will give you three meals and a cot to sleep in but it won’t move you forward very quickly. I use the handout below to remind my clients about the value of solution focused questions.